Campaigners who are fighting to prevent a disused railway tunnel in West Yorkshire from being permanently closed and want to see it host a cycle path have received the unanimous backing of Bradford City Council.
It is hoped that the Queensbury Tunnel, which is 2,501 yards long and closed to rail traffic in 1956, can house part of a cycle route running from Bradford to Halifax.
The Historical Railways Estate, part of Highways England, wants to seal the tunnel, rendering it permanently unusable and insists it would cost £35 million to convert into a cycling facility.
The Queensbury Tunnel Society, which is trying to save it, put the cost at £2.8 million – less than a tenth as much.
Earlier this month, campaigners reportedly secured agreement from the Department for Transport (DfT) to pay them the £3 million set aside for closing the tunnel so long as Bradford City Council assumed responsibility for the tunnel.
Councillor Andrew Senior, who represents the Queensbury Ward for the Conservative Party, tabled a motion asking the council to “engage with interested parties in exploring options for the tunnel, investigate the feasibility of taking on its ownership, [and] facilitate discussions with the Department for Transport, Highways England’s Historical Railways Estate and other funders.”
He told councillors: “The tunnel has been earmarked for an abandonment project involving blocking it all up with concrete at a likely cost of £3 million.
“If the Council was to allow this to happen, it would mean this marvellous piece of Bradford heritage would be lost forever.”
Speaking of the plans to run a cycle path through the tunnel, he said: “It will attract people from outside of the Bradford district to visit and, in a forward-thinking way, this project will create an income back to the Council.”
Another councillor on the Queensbury ward, Paul Cromie, who sits as an independent, said that adapting the tunnel to the new purpose would boost the local economy over the long term.
“We need to keep in mind the long-term effect the tunnel will have on the environment and the community,” he said.
“Sustrans estimates that, over the next 30 years, it will benefit to the tune of £37.6 million from a cycle network with the tunnel as its centrepiece. £3 will be returned for every £1 spent.”
The Labour-controlled council’s executive member for regeneration, planning and transport, councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, said that costings would need to be looked at due to the wildly divergent figures cited by each party.
“Queensbury Tunnel - we support in principle … it’s in line with our cycling strategy to expand key cycling networks across the district,” he said.
“The issue is trying to work out the accurate costs. Highways England’s is many, many millions; the Queensbury Tunnel Society – who’ve done fantastic work in raising awareness of the tunnel’s potential as an asset – their figure is a lot lower.”
Norah McWilliam, who heads the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “What the councillors’ support demonstrates is that this is not a party political issue.
“Everyone with their eyes open can see the sense in transforming our historic tunnel into a facility that will improve connectivity, benefit the environment and help in our battle against obesity, rather than pumping public money into a valueless abandonment scheme.
“We must look now to the council’s own structural investigations to ensure they deliver success, not excess. We have said from the outset that the only sustainable repair option for the tunnel is one that’s proportionate, pragmatic and developed by engineers with deep, specialist insight,” she added. “We don’t want to waste public money on ‘over-the-top’ repairs either.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.