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The People's Millions - who should you vote for?

You might have thought that recent controversies would have sounded the death knell for TV voting, but ITV and the National Lottery don't think so. Together, they're running an enterprise called The People's 50 Millions - where viewers choose which of four projects will receive a £50m lottery grant.

Two of the projects have canal connections: the Black Country Urban Park and Sustrans' Connect2. (The other two are the Eden Project and Sherwood Forest.) So which should you vote for?

The Black Country bid promises "a package of improvements along five canals... making them integral extensions of the open spaces and parks which they pass alongside". In practice, this means three new bridges so local people can get to their canals more easily, and new visitor moorings in Wolverhampton. Meanwhile, the Dudley Tunnel complex will be extended by reopening the Seven Sisters mine and connecting tunnels: there's no suggestion that narrowboaters will be able to take their own craft in, but a new visitor centre will offer skippered boat trips.

The Sustrans scheme is the only national contender of the four. It comprises 79 schemes for new bridges and connections around Britain - and, happily, many of them are on waterways. These include a replacement for Riversdale Swingbridge on the Weaver, removing the first blockage to navigation on the Melton Mowbray Navigation,towpath improvements and access points on the Bridgewater, reopening the towpath of the Shrewsbury & Newport Canal in Shrewsbury itself, access to the Chesterfield Canal towpath, Rochdale towpath improvements, a new bridge over the Regents Canal, a new bridge at Diglis Lock on the Severn, and (you guessed it) a new bridge over the Great Ouse at St Neots... plus a handful more.

Voting starts in ten days' time. If you're a Blackcountryman (or woman), you'll clearly be rooting for the Wolverhampton project: similarly, if you moor near any of the canals in Sustrans' plans (or support any of these restorations), you've probably already decided to give them your vote. What of the rest of us?

The Black Country scheme has the "big bang" appeal, and visitor moorings on the BCN are of course sorely needed. The Sustrans proposals, it's fair to say, will see more benefits to the waterway system as a whole with everywhere from London to the Rochdale Canal set to benefit. But with the Eden Project the undisputed front-runner, both projects need good support from waterway enthusiasts in order to have a chance of success.

It's a difficult decision. Happily, you don't have to choose. The voting guidelines will allow one vote from each phone number, and one from each e-mail address. So if you have a landline and a mobile phone, or home and work e-mail addresses, there's nothing stopping you for voting for both canal-related projects.

Friday 16 November  | Richard Fairhurst  | 2.30pm, Friday 16 November 2007

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