PLANS to transform Nantwich riverside could be the first step towards establishing a regional park through Cheshire's heartland.
The Nantwich Riverside Project is being mooted as a major boost for the town, but is part of an ambitious vision to transform the whole of South Cheshire into a vibrant tourist hotspot.
The Cheshire and Warrington Tourist Board (CWTB) wants to create a Weaver Valley Regional Park stretching all the way along the River Weaver from Nantwich in the south right up to Frodsham.
The aim is to promote the whole county as a single tourist destination through several key destinations, with the Weaver Valley tag seen as the draw for Crewe and Nantwich borough.
Nantwich is seen as a magnet for visitors through its reputation for impressive cultural festivals, not to mention its burgeoning status as gourmet capital of the North West, while Crewe's vibrant economy offers numerous possibilities for so-called 'business tourism'.
But the potential of the lush South Cheshire countryside has, tourist bosses argue, been seriously overlooked.
Rachael Dyer, Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council's tourism development officer, said: 'In the past what we have had is different local authorities all doing their own thing when it comes to tourism. The CWTB are now promoting a more co-ordinated approach.
'Crewe and Nantwich offer their own very different kinds of attraction, but we feel the pretty villages along the River Weaver provide the perfect image on which to base the development of the whole borough.
'It is an exciting time because, ultimately, this will all help bring jobs, investment and regeneration and contribute to a strong, diverse economy.'
Lucy Burton, who is heading the Nantwich Riverside Project on behalf of the Mersey Basin Campaign, said: 'There is scope to develop the area's green spaces, including Nantwich riverside, as heritage and education resources, boost the area's nature and biodiversity, and also provide recreation and leisure.
'We are only at a very early stage, but ambitious plans have now been revealed.
'The installation of a cycleway from Reaseheath into Nantwich town centre marks the start of a £400,000 investment programme to improve access to and the quality of the countryside around the river.
'Future proposals include a riverside pathway, the installation of two wheelchair-friendly bridges and the creation and improvement of numerous acres of meadow and wood- land.'
To kick-off the whole Weaver Valley scheme, a borough website, welcometoupperweavervalley.com, is being launched this month, part of a £350,000 IT project which will centralise tourist information across the whole of Cheshire within one huge super-database.
It will be accessible via e-mail and text messages, allowing visitors to check accommodation, book tickets for events or look up shops selling camping equipment at any time, any place, any where.