Putting the River Taw at the heart of Barnstaple will help unlock investment opportunities in the town.That was the message delivered to business and council leaders at an Opportunity Barnstaple meeting earlier today (Tuesday). Regeneration of the riverfront is seen as one of the key objectives by North Devon Council, said regeneration officer Ellen Vernon. We want to ensure we make the most of the river, she said. Its Barnstaples USP (unique selling point); a lot of people say Barnstaple has turned its back on the river and were trying to change that. The council said the Strand would also play a major role in creating a vibrant town centre. A plan to lease the area between Bridge Chambers and the Tea by the Taw tea room is already well under way and a contract could be awarded to a successful bidder by the middle of May. Council regeneration officer Vanessa Harrison said a report would soon go the councils executive committee asking it to support the leasing of the land to a commercially sustainable scheme. The idea is to deliver regeneration of the riverfront through private investment and to create an attractive all-weather offering, she said. Members of the public are already being consulted about a series of options for a new pedestrian crossing over the river and funding is being sought to improve links to the railway station. The public will also be consulted over plans to remodel and redevelop existing car parks in the town, while free WiFi for town centre shoppers could become a permanent fixture following a successful trial in December 2015. The council is seeking expressions of interest from any providers wishing to run the £6,000-a-year service, with a £6,000 grant available to cover the cost of the first of a minimum three-year contract. Meanwhile, town centre manager Hannah Harrington said 2016 had been a good retail year for Barnstaple, with average daily footfall up 10 per cent during December, compared with last year. Todays event at the Park Hotel followed a similar event held at the Barnstaple Hotel in April last year. The councils executive member for economic regeneration, Councillor Pat Barker, said: The event was very well received, with more than 60 stakeholders attending, including businesses, developers and representatives from public bodies. We were pleased to be able to update everyone on some major regeneration projects that are already underway. It was a very positive event and Im looking forward to working with partners to make the most of the exciting opportunities we have to develop the town.