A £5.6 million project to restore Hereford's Cathedral Close has been confirmed this week.

The signal to proceed with the scheme, which has been in the making for six years, came with the news of a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of £4.2 million towards the cost.

It has been described by the Dean of Hereford, the Very Rev Michael Tavinor, as a once-in-a generation chance to improve the quality of the setting of the cathedral.

Plans for redeveloping the close are still under consultation and no work will start until autumn next year.

The developments are likely to coincide with Hereford Cathedral staging the Three Choirs Festival in 2009.

The lottery grant has been ringfenced until the Dean and Chapter have produced final plans, obtained planning permission and satisfied HLF that they can raise £1.4 million as their share of the cost.

This process is expected to take six months.

The overall plan is to maintain the area's green image but also to greatly improve the whole setting of the cathedral.

It includes better roads and paving, realigned paths, more seating, upgrading the mason's yard, improving the drainage and defining boundaries, particularly along Broad Street.

It is not so much about change but improving the quality and allowing more people to enjoy the Cathedral Close while benefiting from its educational value.

It is not expected there will be a great visual impact as the Cathedral Close is a closed burial ground.

When work starts there will be some public impact for one summer but the close will not be closed. The work will be undertaken in stages and it is expected to take up to 18 months.

Mr Tavinor said: "It is good news for all as the project will vastly improve a much loved and used green space at the heart of the city and diocese, while also providing an appropriate setting for the cathedral."

Carole Souter, director of the HLF, said: "Hereford Cathedral is a spectacular Norman building which deserves an equally spectacular setting. The HLF's support means that the surrounding close will be completely transformed so benefiting thousands of visitors both locally and from farther afield."