An ambitious project to build a new section of canal in Melksham could bring a café culture to the town and millions of pounds in revenue.

A partnership bidding to restore the former Wilts & Berks Canal in Wiltshire has announced it will prioritise the Melksham link this year, to mark the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Wilts & Berks and Kennet & Avon Canal.

The 3.5km Melksham link will start at the Kennet & Avon Canal in Semington, run past the Berryfield estate and join the River Avon in Melksham, before heading north towards Lacock.

It is hoped the Melksham link, which will run alongside the former A350, will be completed by 2014. A community hall and play area would have to be relocated if the plan gets the go-ahead.

Residents will be consulted on the proposal, which would need planning permission and funding of up to £10 million.

Capaigners hope the Wilts & Berks will be restored from Semington to the River Thames in Abingdon within 15 years.

Dave Bentley, landlord of the New Inn in Semington Road, said: “I think the plan is excellent. Not only will it increase the character of the area and look nice, but as a landlord it will also increase my trade.”

Shirley Webb, 63, who has lived in Berryfield Park for 12 years, said: “It will be a nice thing for the area and good for the café and pub, but I think it would be better to spend the money on the town rather than on a canal. Melksham needs more money invested in it.”

Chamber of commerce president Graham Ellis said: “I think it will bring in a tremendous amount of people into the area.

“It will also do wonders for the canal frontage and for business and tourism for the area as well as looking so nice.”

Ken Oliver, canal officer at Wiltshire Council, said: “We chose the Melksham link to start with because we wanted something very significant for this year, and it is something that will deliver immediately because boats will be able to come off the Kennet & Avon and travel through Melksham.

“The original line is not restorable as some of it goes through the town centre in areas that have been built on, so a new solution has been sought.

“Reopening the canal will bring many opportunities for regeneration in Melksham and the development of a café culture, with new canalside pubs and restaurants. The Kennet and Avon Canal is recorded as bringing in about £20 million a year and it’s not just the boaters,.

“The scene brings people in and they spend money on things like bed and breakfasts and bike hire among other things.”

He said the canal would head towards Lacock, through Pewsham near Chippenham and eventually onto Swindon.

Mr Oliver said funding will come from opportunities for canalside development but the partnership will also apply for grants.

Much of the route is on private land and negotiations are ongoing with the owners.