Planning application for abandonment of Queensbury Tunnel receives 7,000th objection

Queensbury Tunnel campaigners. Photo: Four By ThreeQueensbury Tunnel campaigners. Photo: Four By Three
Queensbury Tunnel campaigners. Photo: Four By Three
A planning application for the abandonment of a disused railway tunnel in West Yorkshire has attracted its 7,000th objection.

The 1.4-mile long Queensbury Tunnel, between Bradford and Halifax, has been at the centre of a longstanding battle to prevent its custodian, Highways England, abandoning the Victorian structure due to safety concerns. However campaigners, supported by Bradford and Calderdale councils, want to see it brought back into public use as part of a greenway connecting the two districts.

Campaigners say that a planning application to infill seven shafts and about 300 metres of the tunnel - 13 per cent of its total length - was submitted to Bradford Council in May 2019, and that the remainder of the Victorian structure will be left to collapse over time.

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A decision on the application was originally expected last September, say campaigners, but the date had to be pushed back due to the failure of Jacobs, Highways England’s agent, to provide information on a number of issues, including the implications of access constraints and the flood risk associated with the scheme.

Preparatory works for abandonment started in September 2018 but had to be completely replanned, say campaigners, after Highways England twice neglected to pay the £50 annual rent on a pumping station at the south end of the tunnel, resulting in the equipment being switched off.

Campiagners say more than £4.5 million has so far been committed to the scheme; the full cost of abandonment - if planning permission is granted - is expected to exceed £7 million. Bradford Council costed the tunnel’s repair at £6.9 million in 2018.

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “The response to the planning application has been overwhelming and unprecedented. Abandonment is costing a fortune and benefits nobody except a few officials in Whitehall and York.

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“It’s about time Highways England withdrew its planning application and joined the movement to secure a positive future for Queensbury Tunnel, helping to repurpose it as an iconic landmark on the country’s active travel network. That’s the only way of seeing a return on the taxpayer’s investment.

“It’s a strategically valuable structure connecting two large urban centres - a reality which some in the Department for Transport are now waking up to. As we look to the future, it’s clear that the green transport revolution promoted by the Government will only prove viable if we make the most of our existing infrastructure assets. Queensbury Tunnel has to be saved.”

Last month, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced funding for a business case into a Bradford-Halifax Greenway incorporating the tunnel. Highways England has received £500,000 to conduct a technical study into reopening options and costs, but it was revealed this week that the company’s contractor is preparing to infill a section of tunnel under a ventilation shaft without planning consent.

A Highways England spokesperson said: “We are continuing our work at Queensbury Tunnel, maintaining the safety of local communities and our workforce. The work we are undertaking is separate to the planning application which Bradford Council needs to determine.

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“This work benefits any future plans to reopen the tunnel by keeping it safe now, and supports the Department for Transport and West Yorkshire Combined Authority as they look at options for the future use of the structure.

“The tunnel needs strengthening to prevent further collapse, and for the safety of residents living close to the top of Shaft 3 and our workforce. Preventing an uncontrolled collapse is the best option for keeping the tunnel viable for future use.”

Highways England added that the planning application submitted in May 2019 to close the tunnel is still with Bradford Council awaiting a decision and that their plans were communicated to Bradford Council before the Secretary of State for Transport’s announcement on 14 July.

Highways England is not the owner of the tunnel and has no legal involvement with adjacent landowners, they said.

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Highways England also said that the Department for Transport announced a £1 million funding on July 14 to develop a business case for a Queensbury Tunnel ‘greenway’ scheme.

They said that West Yorkshire Combined Authority will use £500,000 to develop options for how the tunnel could be part of a new green transport link between Bradford and Halifax, in a bid to boost connectivity while delivering economic and leisure benefits, and that they are working with the local authority and the combined authority on next steps.

Highways England will receive the remaining £500,000 of the funding to look further at the engineering requirements and costs associated with making sure the tunnel is safe for any future construction.

Highways England said that work is currently taking place to fill a short section of the tunnel under Shaft 3. They said this is a high-risk area where flooding has occurred and sections of the tunnel lining have continued to collapse onto the supports they installed last year.

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