Work on an ambitious scheme to redirect an abandoned canal through the centre of Melksham could begin this time next year, if a series of consultations are approved.

The Melksham Link project would see the Wilts and Berks canal through the town restored, connecting the existing canal at Semington to the River Avon.

A planning application for the scheme, which is hoped will bring tourism and commercial development to the town, has been lodged with Wiltshire Council by the Wilts and Berks Canal Trust, but will not be considered until a series of environmental surveys have been completed.

Paul Lenaerts, the charity’s project manager, said: “The main issues now are environmental ones.

“We’re planning to put a new weir across the River Avon, so we have to make sure it’s not going to worsen any flood risks. Our assessments suggest it will actually slightly improve the flooding situation, but that will need a second opinion. We also have to do a series of wildlife surveys.

“We hope the environmental statement can be done by the end of September, then there will be a second consultation period around October, then hopefully a determination by the end of the year.”

The trust is already making plans to raise awareness of the project, and is calling on groups and individuals to support the campaign.

Mr Lenaerts said: “If we have the funds in place we could be starting this time next year, but we will be having some publicity events during the year.

“We’re planning a River Festival at the King George V Playing Field on September 6 and 7, when we’ll have steam boats on the stretch of river above the old weir, and lots of fun things to do.

“We will also apply to local businesses, who in the long-run should do well from the increase of tourism and activities, so we need to talk to some of the bigger companies in the town.”

For more details about the trust, and the Melksham Link project, log on to www.