DESPITE months of delays and debates, the controversial 25.5million canal project finally got the go-ahead on Tuesday night.

Stroud District Council voted to plug a budget gap of £2.34million to secure nearly £12million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and also decided to draw up detailed plans to lead the work.

But some councillors were concerned the costs would soar, other projects would be cut, and officials did not have the necessary experience.

Speaking at a special meeting at Ebley Mill last Tuesday, council leader Chas Fellows said: "It can pay off to be brave.

"I did have some concerns with regard to this project and I still do.

"However my concerns will abate when we start work.

"I believe we must do the canal otherwise we’ll lose all the benefits.

"It gives us an opportunity to stimulate to some degree the business of the whole district by using local contractors.

"The downturn in the economy is going to make it easier, in my opinion, to deliver this project to or under budget."

The meeting, attended by dozens of residents, concerned phase 1A of the project between Saul and Brimscombe Port.

Members were told the benefits for the district could include 600 new jobs, £531,000 of annual income, £83milion of private sector investment and protection for heritage and wildlife.

The authority decided to raise all the extra money by the sale of the former Electricity Board depot in Dudbridge and Rackfield car park in Dursley.

But the Green Party wanted assurances the regeneration would not reduce funding for other projects.

John Marjoram (Green, Trinity), who voted against the plan, said: "I’m afraid that if we put all that money into the canal, we won’t have enough money to help the ordinary people."

He claimed the canal was not a priority for most people and also wanted to know how the project would be affected if the Iceland deposit were lost.

Fi Macmillan (Green, Nailsworth), who voted against the plan, said: "I don’t accept that the employment figures are realistic.

"We’re using all our capital resources to regenerate this landlocked canal."

Linda Townley (Inde, Uplands), who voted for the plan, warned the costs could soar and demanded regular scrutiny.

Tom Williams (Lab, Cainscross), who voted against the plan, claimed the previous estimated project costs had dropped by £2.8million to meet available funding.

Janet Wood (Coaley and Uley, Inde), who voted against the plan, claimed the project leaders had no experience of building or running canals.

John Fowles (Lab, Cam West), who voted against the plan, was concerned that money from the Dursley sale would not benefit the town and wanted to know how residents would be remunerated.

But Nigel Studdert-Kennedy, cabinet member for regeneration and tourism, stressed the work would not affect services.

"The work will be done in sections which don’t place a strain on the council’s resources," he added.

He said if the Iceland deposit were lost, it would be written off over a long time to minimise the impact on council finances.

Cllr Studdert-Kennedy pointed-out that money raised through sale of council assets could be spent anywhere in the district, but said the gross income from the Dursley sale would be spent in the town.

Chief executive David Hagg said: "There’s a need to understand a financial risk can occur.

"But all the figures are the best estimates."

He explained the estimated costs had been dropped because they did not include the development of Brimscombe Port.

Mr Hagg also assured councillors the scrutiny committees had a right to monitor the project’s progress regularly.

Councillors voted 37 in favour, with seven against and one abstaining.

The project is due to start in early 2009.