WITH the increasing popularity of the Fourteen Locks Canal visitor centre, calls are being made to extend the Brecon and Monmouthshire canal all the way to Cwmcarn.

Since opening three years ago, the visitor centre, at Rogerstone, has welcomed around 150,000 visitors from countries such as Russia, China, New Zealand and Canada.

The canal passes through Monmouthshire, Torfaen and Newport county boroughs, but Islwyn MP Chris Evans has now called for the Caerphilly arm to be reopened to the public- a move which would bring much-needed investment and tourism into the area.

From Fourteen Locks canal centre, the Crumlin arm runs a further five miles through Risca, Crosskeys, Pontywaun, Newbridge, Abercarn and Cwmcarn. But, this stretch through Risca is only opened about twice a year to the public.

Mr Evans said: "The fact that 50,000 people have visited the Fourteen Locks canal centre this year just goes to show the potential that our waterways have."

Conservation manager at Fourteen Locks, Phil Hughes, agreed, saying that opening the canal all the way to Cwmcarn would be "phenomenal" for tourism in Gwent as a whole.

He pointed out the Crumlin arm of the canal's historical significance to Gwent. Before 1790, Newport had a population of under 500, but when the canal started bringing coal and iron from Islwyn, the docks and city expanded, helping south Wales become one of the world's biggest exporters by 1848.

Five of the fourteen locks have now been restored and Mr Hughes said the canal's trust is working with all Gwent local authorities to open up as much of the canal as possible.

But, he said to open the Crumlin arm up to tourists all the way to Cwmcarn would cost around £90 million. He said: "About 15 years ago, there was talk of closing the Crumlin arm down, but we managed to change the opinion.

"We are working with all the local authorities and would love to see it open, that is the ultimate aim. But, the pot of available money is becoming smaller and smaller and it isn't easy."

Various groups are also supportive, including the Islwyn Canal Association.