AN AMBITIOUS plan to reopen a canal, railway line and cycle path and create a country park between Cricklade and Swindon is still on track.

The Cricklade Country Way project faced being cut back or shelved all together after an unsuccessful bid for lottery funding.

The project was turned down for a £25million Big Lottery Fund grant in November, just two weeks before work was scheduled to begin.

When complete the goal is to reopen the Wiltshire and Berkshire canal, revive a bygone steam railway and link up a national cycle trail as well as creating a 50-hectare country park between the two towns.

The scheme has been in the pipeline for the last 11 years.

Work to restore the canal and the railway line has begun in earnest, according to project manager Ken Oliver.

"It is progressing as well as can be expected without a large sum of lottery money under our belt," he said this week. "We are finding funding as and when we can.

"Obviously the whole of the Cricklade Country Way project had been geared around the lottery bid but we still have Plan B which is to deliver the scheme, but a little less quickly.

Last month work began on the southern extension of the canal which will run from Blunsdon to a new station at Mouldon Hill Country Park.

Jim Poor, chairman of the charitable trust The Swindon and Cricklade Railway, which is a partner in the project, said: "Track is already laid along a large part of the route and this new work is the initial stage towards completing it.

"Initially we will be clearing away saplings and undergrowth that has encroached on the existing trackbed.

"This will be followed by remedial work on the formation and the removal of an access bridge that has deteriorated beyond repair. All this is within our existing planning permission."

"At the moment, we are hoping services will begin during or soon after 2010."