Ambitious regeneration plans for a Black Country Urban Park moved a step closer to becoming reality yesterday when voting lines for a £50 million national competition opened.
As a contender for The People's £50 million Contest, the Black Country as an Urban Park is one of four projects competing for the bumper National Lottery grant.
With the winner selected by TV viewers, The Black Country Consortium and its bid partners have already started to drum up as much support as possible, with backing from broadcaster David Bellamy and comedians Jasper Carrott and Lenny Henry.
The other partners working to promote the project are Dudley, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Sandwell Councils and The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country.
If successful, the money will go towards a 30-year development of a series of sustainable projects, including the Urban Park, designed to attract tourists and stretching across the Black Country.
The Park scheme aims to uncover forgotten caverns beneath Dudley, create a 12-mile "green bridge" linking Walsall and West Bromwich town centres, breathe new life into Wolverhampton's canal network and improve access to green places.
It hopes to do all of this through a programme of community involvement, while providing 800,000 people with the chance to be within a 15-minute walk of a safe and attractive green space.
Sarah Middleton, Chief Executive of the Black Country Consortium, said: "The response from leading business figures in the region has been excellent but we really do need everyone, all companies in the Black Country and wider West Midlands, to back the bid and make this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity happen."
Originally, the judges were presented with 33 initial applicants. These were narrowed down to a short-list of six by a Big Lottery Fund committee last summer.
All six, including the Black Country project, were awarded £500,000 to develop their bids before the final four were selected.
The other projects vying for votes are the Eden Project, Sherwood Legend and Sustrans Connect2 national cycle network - with a trail in North Birmingham.
The Edge biome at the Eden Project in Cornwall will focus on the challenges of water and energy use in global climate change and will be a model of cutting-edge architecture and technology. It will harvest water and energy from the sun, wind and rain.
For the Sherwood Legend project, more than 15 organisations in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire have been working together for the Living Legend project.
Its aim is to build on the legend and popularity of Robin Hood and Sherwood, and act as a catalyst for regeneration in the Sherwood area, while creating a world-class visitor experience.
Connect2 is a project which plans to improve local travel in 79 communities across the UK by building walking and cycling bridges and tunnels, developing links and reinstating a ferry.
Across the UK, six million people live within a mile of the a proposed Connect2 scheme. Details for telephone voting will be announced on December 7, with voting closing on December 10. To vote, visit www.thepeoples50million.org.uk