ONE of Southampton's best features - its medieval walls - is to be illuminated.

In the latest bid to help give the city the elusive wow factor, more than £77,000 will be spent on lighting the 600-year-old walls near the waterfront.

The 30-metre stretch of the walls along Western Esplanade and opposite the De Vere Grand Harbour Hotel will be lit from March to late May next year.

If it proves popular, Southampton City Council hopes to expand the public art scheme to light up other historical sites within the Old Town.

With a decision on a proposal to light up the Itchen Bridge due next month, Southampton could soon bill itself as a City of Lights to rival Paris.

Public arts officer Liz Smith said: "There has always been a view that we should bring the Old Town to light'. It's not just about lighting a structure, it's about engaging with it and enabling people to interact and learn about it.

"It won't simply be floodlighting, it will be far more sensitive than that and will illuminate architectural features of the wall."

Newcastle-based artist Simon Watkinson has been commissioned to create the lighting scheme.

His influence can already be seen around Southampton at the Holyrood Church ruins, inside the 14th century Lankaster's Vault and at the new Telephone House flats development.

Survey work will begin this week, with the first artist's impressions to be revealed in the New Year.

Funding for the scheme was approved by the Southampton Partnership - the same strategy group that earlier this year rejected plans for a £250,000 bronze replica Spitfire.

Instead, the unelected board chose to splash £120,000 on a controversial model of the city and £25,000 on 13 new welcome signs.

However, the new lighting scheme will be one of the last projects the Partnership ever approves.

The Daily Echo has learned that as of next year the Partnership will no longer have the power to approve which projects receive Government funding from the regional development agency SEEDA.

The board has approved almost £2m of projects in the past three years, but SEEDA has now decided it will use local area agreements when deciding what schemes to invest in.

Councillor John Hannides, who led the campaign for a Spitfire memorial, said: "Clearly for Southampton we are very keen that where Government money is channelled to the area that we would prefer that it come direct to the local authority who can determine the priorities of the city."

The news comes days after a grand new vision for a tribute to the Spitfire was revealed by the Daily Echo. The Spitfire of the South has been hailed as the most ambitious landmark project ever proposed for Southampton.

It's hoped the structure would stand over 100 feet high, making it taller than the Angel of the North, and could cost between £1m and £2m when it includes a visitor centre and observation area.