THE chairman of Malvern Spa Association has welcomed provisional support for a major Hills project from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The fund has given the Malverns Heritage Project first stage approval, releasing £30,000 to prepare a detailed bid for a major grant.

It has also set aside £863,500 in preparation for an acceptable bid being provided by the project backers during the next 12 months.

Although management of the Hills through the reintroduction of grazing animals and conservation work is the largest element of the project, there is also a significant part given to the restoration of wells and spouts.

Malvern Spa Association is a key player in that element of the project and its chairman, John Ford, described the latest developments as "extremely exciting".

"We are absolutely over the moon with the success of this," he said. "As joint applicants for the Lottery funding we are very aware that there is a great deal to do and that any work carried out must be sympathetic to the heritage and environment of the area.

"This is something that everyone can enjoy and benefit from."

Work is already under way restoring one of the spouts on the association's ten-strong list submitted to the Lottery body.

The association has been working with local people, the Madresfield Estate, Worcestershire County Council and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Service to restore Earl Beauchamp's Fountain in Cowleigh Road.

The other targeted sites on the list are Lord Sandy's Spout, Spring Lane; the Clock Tower, West Malvern Road; Westminster Bank, off West Malvern Road; West Malvern Spout, West Malvern Road; Wynds Point Spout, British Camp; British Camp Well, west of Herefordshire Beacon; Jubilee Fountain, Wells Road; Lower Wyche Spout; St Anne's Well.

"The work the association has already undertaken on Earl Beauchamp's Fountain has shown that restoration is a very time consuming exercise if it is to be done properly and in a professional manner," said Mr Ford.

"An important part of this is working with the local residents and addressing their concerns.

"If we are successful with the Lottery bid it will allow us to move forward with some major restoration projects but also provide money to communicate and educate about water on the Malvern Hills. It is extremely exciting as well as being a very important conservation exercise."