CAMPAIGNERS battling for a long-awaited river clean-up in Halstead town centre are celebrating a breakthrough following top-level talks this week.

The River Colne, by the Causeway, has been branded an eyesore after water levels were allowed to drop.

Residents have been left angry by its appearance and the number of rats in the area.

Campaigner John Smith set up a meeting between the Environment Agency, Halstead Town Council, Braintree Council, Townsford Mill owner John de Bruyne, Halstead in Bloom and the river clean team on Wednesday evening.

He said the outcome of the talks was “very positive”.

“Some progress was made, particularly regarding the appearance of the river,” said Mr Smith.

“The appearance is one of the big problems.

“Whether there is more water or fewer rats, at the end of the day it’s about the appearance.”

Mr Smith said the delegates at the meeting were all very positive and a decision had been made to improve the the river.

He doesn’t think it will be “that long” until work begins, although a date for improvements has not been set.

Further meetings are set to take place.

Mr Smith has been campaigning about the river for four months.

He has also collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition and pledges of money for a restoration fund.

He said: “The Environment Agency previously told me that money raised by residents would help to carry out the work. I now have pledges of more than £1,100 from Halstead residents to contribute.”

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: “We recognise that the river through Halstead is an important feature to residents and that they are passionate about maintaining it as an attractive feature for the town.

“Residents are keen to raise funds to support improvements to the river channel through the town and will be working as a group to raise funds and discuss designs for improving the river channel.

“We will be involved in this process to advise on features that will enhance the ecological value of the river through Halstead while not increasing flood risk.

“The aspiration of all parties is to create a more attractive looking channel through the town at its lower level while improving the ecological value of the river and keeping flood risk to local residents to a minimum.

“We look forward to working with residents over the coming months and will work as a group to deliver the best outcome possible for the River Colne through Halstead at its lower level.”