A planning application has been submitted which should see work begin in 2023 on building an important length of new canal in Swindon and linking together two existing sections of the Wilts & Berks Canal restoration scheme.

The Wilts & Berks Canal and its northern branch the North Wilts Canal once linked the Kennet & Avon Canal to the River Thames and the Thames & Severn Canal; however since abandonment in 1914, sections of both canals have been lost as Swindon town centre has been redeveloped on parts of the original route. Despite this, the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust has plans to restore both canals, by a combination of restoration of parts of the original route and construction of a new diversionary route around the south side of Swindon. It has been helped on its way by the development of Wichelstowe, a major residential expansion on the south side of the town. Thanks to planning conditions from the local authority and the realisation that a waterway adds to the attraction and value of new housing, construction of the early phases of Wichelstowe have included restoring a length of the original route (which now supports a trip-boat operation) and building a section of brand new canal, complete with a lock.

The new length of canal at East Wichel could soon be linked to the restored section of the original canal to create a much longer length

Now, subject to planning consent, the next phase of Wichelstowe will see these sections connected together by further sections of new and restored canal, with work starting in 2023 but expected to take ‘several years’. Once complete, this will create a 4km length of navigable canal; it will also improve the case for funding the new navigable culvert needed to carry the canal under the M4 motorway on its way out of Swindon (this has already received development funding from Highways England), in the longer term opening the canal from Swindon to Royal Wootton Bassett, and ultimately reopening the through route.

To find out more about the Wilts & Berks Canal restoration, see our restoration feature article here