A UNIQUE engineering scheme designed to stop Northwich from sinking is a step closer to reality.
Vale Royal Borough Council's multi-million pound mineral extraction project to stabilise four abandoned rock salt mines under the town centre has been given the go-ahead by Cheshire County Council.
'Now we can move the project forward,' said a borough council spokesman.
But before the borough council's official bid for the £28m needed to fund the project can be made to English Partnerships, a legal agreement has to be signed with the county council.
When Cheshire approved the scheme last week, it imposed several conditions which need to be included in a legal document.
When this is signed and Vale Royal has appointed the consultants for the implementation phase of the project, an application will be made to the Government's Land Stabilisation Programme. The application will include a complete breakdown of all costs involved and will be ready for submission by October.
As soon as funds are assured, work will get under way to create the mixing site, rail sidings and putting a pipeline under the River Weaver to take the grout into Northwich town centre.
Brine will be extracted from the mines and they will be filled with about 1m tons of a special grout, made from pulverised fuel ash, salt and cement.
Vale Royal has given an undertaking to listen to the concerns of residents at Castle and Winnington, who fear noise and disruption while work is in progress. And the council is also negotiating with Railtrack and a train operator with a view to minimising noise and causing as little disruption as possible from the sidings.
The pulverised ash will be transported by train to the Winnington site from the Fiddlers Ferry Power Station, at Widnes, where it will be mixed before it is pumped into the mines along the pipeline.
The displaced brine is to be transported by rail tankers to British Salt at Middlewich.
Work on the ambitious project is expected to start in 2003 and should be complete in three years.