DEVON County Council has pledged up to £3 million to repair and modernise the Grand Western Canal following a catastrophic breach of the canal wall at Halberton in November.

DCC's leader John Hart said the money would be included in the authority’s capital budget.

It is hoped the works will be completed in time for the 200th anniversary of the canal in 2014.

Speaking today, Tuesday, January 15, Mr Hart said: “This is an historic feature with many listed structures along its length.

“It is a major tourist attraction and vital to Mid Devon’s economy and to Devon as a whole.

“I am awaiting a detailed report on exactly what we can do and what it will cost but I believe Devon County Council has a duty to restore the canal and to do that as quickly as possible.

“I believe we should also take the opportunity to try to ensure nothing like this happens again.

”I am confident that the money we are setting aside will do the job that’s required.”

Mr Hart and deputy leader John Clatworthy recently visited the breach to see the damage for themselves with county and district councillor Ray Radford.

Mr Hart added: “It is a shocking sight and the county council is determined to restore one of the jewels of Mid Devon.”

Devon’s cabinet member for environment and community, Roger Croad, said he had been very impressed with the reaction of local people to the catastrophe.

Villagers had turned out in the immediate aftermath to do what they could to help and a fundraising launched by Friends of Grand Western Canal has so far raised more than £1,650.

Mr Hart said the collapse of the canal and the severe storms before Christmas meant an additional £930,000 was being re-instated in the budget for repairing potholes and other safety defects on Devon’s roads, with a further £300,000 set aside for winter maintenance.

“Over the past two years we have begun to get a real grip on repairing the roads following the two severe winters,” Mr Hart said.

“But July’s storms and the unprecedented weather we experienced before Christmas has almost put us back to square one. In fact in some areas we’ve gone backwards.

“There is no possibility to make any savings in this area. It would just not be prudent.

“Indeed I am looking at where we can find some extra money for drainage works to try to alleviate some of the flooding problems our communities have faced in the last few months.”

Commenting on the cash for the Grand Western Canal, Tiverton East county councillor Des Hannon, who chairs the canal, said: “I am delighted to welcome this sensible decision by the county council.

“Local people in my area greatly value the canal and their actions over the last few weeks demonstrate that.

“People have been fundraising, people have been lobbying and I am very pleased that the council has seen the writing on the wall and will make full reinstatement.”

Willand and Uffculme county councillor Ray Radford said: “I am really pleased that Devon County Council is able to support the reinstatement of the canal.

“It is a great asset to the local community, to Mid Devon, to Devon and to the country. It brings a huge amount of tourists and revenue into the area.”

Tiverton West county councillor Polly Colthorpe added: “It is very good news indeed.

“Mid Devon is a very beautiful place but we do not have that many specific tourist attractions. This is much loved and much used by everybody who lives in Mid Devon.”

The county council will meet next month to set its budget.