A scheme to restore and reclaim a neglected section of historic riverbank has been praised by the mayor of the community which has earned its living there for centuries.

The River Dee at Saltney was once the hub of thriving shipbuilding and seafaring industries and a vital crossing point on the border between England and Wales.

But it had fallen into neglect and become an overgrown and rundown site for fly-tippers and vandals until a major scheme led by Saltney Town Council, in partnership with Flintshire County Council, Cadwyn Clwyd and Natural Resources Wales, began to regenerate the area.

Now the Mayor of Saltney, Councillor Alan Evans, has praised the £80,000 multi-agency scheme, which has seen rural regeneration agency Cadwyn Clwyd access the majority of the funding from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Welsh Government through the Wales Rural Development Plan 2007-2013 and is part of a three-year plan to revitalise rural communities and their economies.

He said: “You can just go down to the river now and turn left and you can walk all the way to Cardiff, it’s fantastic.

“It’s wonderful that they have reclaimed this area for the community and as a Town Council we’re delighted to have played our part by coming up with the idea and supporting it.

“From being an eyesore and a bit of a no go area it’s now a really nice place and when I was down there recently I met an elderly man in a wheelchair and he said, ‘Thank you. I’ve not seen the river for 30 years, I couldn’t get near it,’ and that really touched me.

“It’s been an immediate benefit to people and there are always people down there now enjoying the sights and the wildlife.

“There’s a statue there we’ve christened Saltney Sid which commemorates the chainmaking industry that was there in the days when Saltney was a shipbuilding centre.”

Sarah Jones, Cadwyn Clwyd Environment and Heritage Officer, said: “This has been a really good project and one we’ve been delighted to be involved with because this area was really lost to the local community and now it has been opened up and made accessible.

“It links the town of Saltney to the River Dee and makes people aware of its proud heritage as well as providing them with a public amenity which can be enjoyed by everyone.”

Flintshire County Council’s Countryside Service has overseen the work which has included clearing the areas and making the bank accessible, putting in paths and creating a viewpoint with information panels as well as planting a pollinator hedge to encourage bees and a variety of trees.

Sculptor Michael Johnson, who recently provided an impressive piece of public art to mark the Holywell Town Trail, has also been commissioned to provide four sculptures.

He has been working with local schools on the designs and the final finished project will also include an audio trail, benches and interpretation panels, all of which will be unveiled at a special launch in January.

The audio trail includes an interview from the BBC archives of an interview with Saltney’s last ferryman, Bob Manifold, and the Manifold family connection with the area has also been commemorated.

For 200 years up to 1966 the Manifold family were ferrymen at Saltney and they still live locally and have donated a seat which is there at the old ferry crossing point.

Neville Shallcross, Chairman of the Saltney Local History Group, said: “The last ferryman was Bob Manifold and I remember as a boy how he used to take us kids out on the ferryboat when the Dee bore was running and we’d ride the wave down the river.”

Councillor Bernie Attridge, Flintshire County Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Environment, said: “This was a site that was blighted by fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour but there was potential to develop it.

“It was the local county councillors who suggested the scheme and the Town Council has been very supportive.

“I am proud that Flintshire Countryside Service has led on this multi-agency project and, thanks to Cadwyn Clwyd, we have been able to draw down funding for the work.”

For more information on Cadwyn Clwyd projects ring 01824 705802 or e-mail info@cadwynclwyd.co.uk