Campaign group blasts rising costs of Queensbury Tunnel saga

The Queensbury Tunnel Society (QTS) campaign group says the cost of preparatory works for the abandonment of the tunnel has passed the £4 million mark.

By Tom Scargill
Tuesday, 9th June 2020, 9:12 am
Queensbury Tunnel. Photo: Four By Three
Queensbury Tunnel. Photo: Four By Three

The group, who are campaigning for the tunnel to be brought back into use as a greenway linking Bradford amd Halifax, says this is more than seven times the original estimate.

In May 2019, QTS says, Highways England submitted a planning application to infill 12 per cent of Queensbury Tunnel - which extends for 1.4 miles between Bradford and Halifax - due to perceived safety concerns. A year later, QTS says, the application has not yet been determined as Bradford Council is still waiting for the submission of information requested by consultees. To date, QTS says, more than 6,470 people have lodged objections via the Council’s planning portal.

Last year, Highway England spent £3.44 million on an initial phase of preparatory works involving the installation of steel reinforcement panels at a number of locations through the tunnel, says the campaign group.

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They say the programme was originally costed at £545,000, but this figure rose significantly after the company failed to pay the £50 annual rent on a pumping station at the Halifax end of the tunnel, resulting in the need for a temporary dewatering operation which cost around £1.2 million.

The campaign group says that under its agreement with the Department for Transport to cover the management of around 3,200 disused railway structures, including Queensbury Tunnel, Highways England is responsible for meeting “all costs associated with the property”. It claimed, says QTS, that the rent demands for the pumping station never reached its team for payment due to what it described as “a simple but unfortunate administrative error”. However, under the terms of the associated lease, QTS says, the rent should have been paid “whether formally demanded or not”.

In March, according to QTS, contractor AMCO-Giffen returned to the tunnel to spray 45 metres of the steel reinforcement panels with concrete. According to a letter written by Highways England’s Operations Executive Director to Shipley MP Philip Davies, says QTS, these new works will cost “an estimated £585,000”, taking the total bill so far to £4.02 million.

Meanwhile, says QTS, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who owns the tunnel, said in March that he had “specifically prevented” it from being infilled and instead wanted to work with local leaders to come up with “a better solution”. Bradford and Calderdale councils, together with a number of other bodies including the Queensbury Tunnel Society, want the Victorian structure repurposed as the centrepiece of a greenway linking the two districts. According to QTS, a study has found that the route would return £2.31 for every £1 invested, offering “high value for money”.

The campaign group says the contracted cost for abandonment was set at £3.56 million in 2018 but, if planning permission is granted, could now exceed £7 million. Consultants commissioned by Bradford Council have costed the tunnel’s repair to accommodate the greenway at £6.9 million, they say.

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “These are eye-watering sums of public money which Highways England continues to fritter away on abandonment despite Grant Shapps clearly stating that he has rejected the official advice to fill it in.

“One thing we’ve learned from the coronavirus crisis is the public’s underlying appetite to embrace active travel and enjoy the environmental benefits offered by leaving our cars at home. Clean air and green space are valuable commodities if we’re to successfully tackle the health challenges facing us.

“People have taken to foot and bike in huge numbers over the past few weeks, but the opportunity to secure permanent change depends on the provision of safe off-road routes. Queensbury Tunnel is a unique strategic connector providing a green alternative to a heavily congested, steep main road connecting two districts. We cannot afford to lose it.”

It’s expected that an updated version of the government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy will be launched this summer, with further measures to encourage the use of active travel by establishing a long-term budget for investment and setting higher infrastructure standards. A national Cycling and Walking Commissioner will also be appointed.

A spokesperson for Highways England said: “We recognise the strength of feeling around Queensbury Tunnel however it is important to note that we are not involved in the ongoing discussions about a change of ownership. Our remit remains purely to maintain the tunnel and protect the safety of the public and contractors.

“Over time the condition of the 142 year old, 1.4 mile long tunnel continues to deteriorate and the cost associates with maintaining the structure are therefore affected. The Department for Transport is fully aware of the scope and nature of the current safety work.

“To assist discussions over a transfer of ownership, we assisted engineers from Bradford Council to inspect the interior of the tunnel last week.”