Impressive new pictures show how the “stale and unattractive” High Wycombe town centre could be transformed if the River Wye is reopened.

An ambitious project to reopen the important chalk stream through the town centre has dominated the headlines for more than a year as councillors debated the pros and cons of the idea.

The river flows for around 10 and a half miles from West Wycombe down to the River Thames in Bourne End, but much of the river in High Wycombe town centre is underground, with the likes of the Abbey Way flyover built over the top.

Now, new computer-generated images have revealed how the river could become a major town centre feature – shifting the focus from roads and vehicles to pedestrians and nature.

Presenting an update on the plans at the improvement and review commission on Wednesday night, Cllr Hugh McCarthy - who has spearheaded the scheme to reopen the river – said it would be a “golden opportunity” for Wycombe District Council to show that it “really does care about this town”.

Cllr McCarthy says returning the river to the town centre could also finally spell the end for the controversial Abbey Way flyover, which Cllr McCarthy dubbed the “Berlin Wall of the town”.

He said: “Recent advice from Transport for Bucks regarding the life of the flyover is rather vague, although it’s estimated to be anywhere between six months to 10 years maximum.

“At the moment, the area is dominated by traffic and riddled with traffic lights. It can be changed to a much better social place. And it sits very well with the ultimate removal of the flyover.

“We have to recognise that the flyover will go sooner or later and that opens a great opportunity to extend further the river corridor and exciting possibilities for town centre regeneration.

“People today only come to town out of necessity. They drive in, park, they shop and they go home again. They don’t experience the town environment. Footfall is declining rapidly. The town is no longer a place to visit. Our historic town deserves better.”

The scheme would also allow “dramatic” changes to be made to Oxford Street, which is due to be revamped as part of phase seven of the town centre masterplan – and calls have been made to incorporate plans for reopening the river with that so the road will not have to be dug up twice.

Referring to the new images, Cllr McCarthy said: “This is a vision that we feel we can make the town centre into. It’s the vision that shopkeepers are very attracted to. It changes the whole dynamics of the town and makes it a people place.

“The flyover is a divider. I used to get pillory that I called it the Berlin Wall but I think it is the Berlin Wall of our town.”

The plans are the result of months of detailed work by the ‘Return of the River Wye’ task and finish group, which was set up to investigate the possibility of reopening the river.

They were presented to fellow councillors on the improvement and review commission last week, and will eventually go to cabinet for discussion.

If given the go-ahead, reopening the river could be funded through CIL contributions and from the council’s capital works programme.

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