Turning Queensbury Tunnel into a cycling route would bring “national and international” attention, campaigners have told council bosses.
At a meeting of Bradford Council’s decision making Executive this morning, one of the key campaigners attempting to save the tunnel gave an impassioned speech on the merits of the ambitious scheme.
The former Victorian rail tunnel has been unused for decades, but Highways England’s Historical Railways Estate, which maintains the long disused structure on behalf of the Department for Transport, says the tunnel is unsafe. It plans to permanently close it by sealing both entrances and backfilling its ventilation shafts.
In Queensbury there has been a long running campaign to save the tunnel and turn it into the UK’s largest underground cycleway – which would create a cycle route from Keighley, through Bradford and to Halifax.
Over 10,600 people have signed a petition supporting the Queensbury Tunnel project, and the issue was discussed by the Council’s Executive today.
A report to the Executive said if the Council were to take the tunnel on, it would cost £6.9 million to make the tunnel safe, and a total of £23 million to make the tunnel safe, convert it into a cycling attraction and provide a maintenance budget for 30 years.
Richard Gelder, Highways Services Manager, told members that the tunnel project was a “highly attractive proposition, although there are significant financial concerns for the Council becoming actively involved.”
He said a study by healthy transport charity Sustrans said that, taking into account the tourism benefits, the tunnel would be “good value for money.”
Members heard that the big issue would be finding funding for the project.
Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe said: “This has really captured the imagination – if we can pull this off it would be a wonderful provision for the our district, and for Calderdale.”
Norah McWilliam, one of the key figures in the Queensbury Tunnel campaign, told the meeting: “We understand that the Council’s current financial shortfall is problematic, and we understand the Council’s caution in taking ownership of the tunnel.
“We are encouraged by the indications of the Council’s mindset in relation to the tunnel.
“It offers something transformational for future generations. It can be a traffic free route to Calderdale.”
She said it would help reduce congestion in Queensbury and the surrounding areas.
And she added: “It will raise Bradford’s profile, both nationally and internationally. It would be great for sporting events and help Bradford become a capital for cycling.”
She said Highways England says the tunnel is unsafe, and collapse could harm the properties built on the tunnel. But Mrs McWilliam said the current “abandonment” plan – to block up both sides of the tunnel, would not totally eliminate these risks.
She said that any planning application submitted to close the tunnel would be met with a barrage of objections from residents, cycling groups and local schools.
Coun Hinchcliffe said the Council would do what it could to make the project happen.
Councillor John Pennington – leader of the Conservatives on Bradford Council, said: “This would be a huge attraction for our district and our county.”
Councillor Alex Ross Shaw, executive for Regeneration, Planning and Transport, said: “It will link Calderdale and Bradford and the areas in between. This would be the jewel in the crown of the cycling links in the area. This has cross party support and the Queensbury Tunnel group has done a great job spending years raising the profile of the project.”
The Executive will urge Highways England to “delay their abandonment works to allow the Council and its partners time to explore further potential sources of funding for the scheme through development of an advocacy document.”