Plans to turn Queensbury tunnel into an underground cycle way will be supported by Bradford Council – but the authority say they currently cannot commit to undertaking the project with its tightening budget.
For years, Queensbury residents have been fighting against plans for the former Queensbury rail tunnel to be filled in.
Highways England’s Historical Railways Estate, which maintains the long disused structure on behalf of the Department for Transport, says the tunnel is unsafe, and plans to permanently close it by sealing both entrances and backfilling its ventilation shafts.
The historic 1.4-mile tunnel was built to connect Halifax with Keighley and was the Great Northern Railway’s longest when it opened in in 1878. Since its closure was announced the Queensbury Tunnel Society have been pushing for the tunnel to be converted into a cycling route.
And at a meeting of Bradford Council’s decision-making Executive on Tuesday, councillors will discuss the possible future of the tunnel.
An independent assessment of the likely investment required to make the tunnel safe has been undertaken by engineering consultants, AECOM, who estimate it would cost £6.9m.
A report to the Executive suggests that after the additional work to convert it into leisure cycle facility with connecting routes to Bradford and Halifax, and setting aside £7 million to maintain it over 30 years, the total cost of the project would be in the region of £23 million.
Bradford Council says it supports the scheme, although it cannot fully fund it at the moment.
The report says that if the tunnel were taken over by the Council or another group, HRE would provide to £2 million it earmarked to fill it in towards the cost of filling in the tunnel. However, the Council or any other new owner would still have to find an £4.9 million to stabilise it – even before the remaining £16.4m is found.
And the report also reveals that Calderdale Council would support the scheme, although it to has financial constraints that prevent it from investing the total amount at this point.
The Council could apply for money from a “Transforming Cities” fund – but the outcome of that application is unlikely to be known before summer.
The report says: “In light of the current financial standing of Bradford and Calderdale Councils it is unlikely that investment of the £4.9m gap funding to stabilise the tunnel can be met by either organisation either collaboratively or separately and any decision on the outcome of the Transforming Cities bid is unlikely to be known before Spring/Summer 2019.”
A statement from the Council says: “The authority will continue to lobby HRE and the Department of Transport to delay closing the tunnel while it searches for the required funding. However, the AECOM study shows that the tunnel is in an active state of collapse so time is limited.
“Bradford Council supports transforming the Queensbury tunnel into a leisure cycle facility as part of a wider cycleway connecting Bradford and Halifax city centres but due to financial constraints, cannot take ownership unless additional funding is made available.”
Steve Hartley, Strategic Director of Place at the Council, said: “The Queensbury Tunnel Society have done great work highlighting the potential for the tunnel as part of a wider cycleway between Halifax and Bradford but it needs funding.
“The report recommends we continue working with partners in trying to identify resources and lobby Highways England to give us more time to do this.”
The Executive meets in City Hall at 10.30am on Tuesday.
Over 100 cyclists gathered to show solidarity with Queensbury Tunnel campaigners on Monday.
As part of works to make the former rail tunnel safe, contractor AMCO-Giffen has installed lighting and a temporary roadway for about 120 metres at the tunnel’s northern end. On Monday, more than 100 cyclists took part in a ‘solidarity ride’ to the tunnel to convince Highways England that the tunnel should be used as a permanent cycleway, rather than filled in.
Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “It was an inspiring event. For so many to turn out on a biting weekday afternoon was really humbling. Great commitment and so many smiling faces.
“More and more people are buying into our vision – seeing the tunnel as a transformative asset, not a liability that must be destroyed. Providing safe, high-quality infrastructure is vital if we are to deliver the much-needed culture shift away from our reliance on cars to more sustainable forms of transport, particularly for local journeys.”