There is hope for what could be Europe’s longest underground cycle route, through a disused rail tunnel, say campaigners, despite a Highways England estimate restoration work would be too costly, at £35m, to undertake.
The Government-owned company said work will begin to close the 1.4 mile long Queensbury Tunnel, which lies between Bradford and Calderdale, by the next summer – at a cost of £3m – unless another organisation steps forward.
However, campaigners, who question the £35m estimate, say they have managed to secure commitment from Calderdale and Bradford Councils, as well as Highways England, to part-fund a Sustrans study into making the tunnel part of a greenway. They hope to crowd-fund the remaining money required.
A spokesman for Highways England, which owns the tunnel, told the Telegraph and Argus last week: “We remain open to the idea of transferring the Queensbury Tunnel to another public body to maintain it. We would also look to offer the owner the estimated £3m funding we plan to spend on closing it.
“A recent survey revealed the condition of the tunnel continues to deteriorate and our investigations found it would cost an estimated £35m to make it safe for further use.
“We intend to begin work on closing the tunnel in the summer of 2017 if a transfer cannot be agreed by that time.”
However, campaigner Norah McWilliam said she expects the work would cost “considerably less” than Highways England’s estimate and the group commissioned a second engineering report, before seeking funding for a Sustrans report to assess the health and economic benefits of the greenway.
She told the Telegraph and Argus: “That was a projected figure based on an incomplete survey and building in a huge margin for contingencies. Since then a group of experienced tunnel and mining engineers have visited the tunnel and we are waiting for their report and estimate for repair costs. We expect it to be considerably less than Highways England’s initial figure.
She said Calderdale Council is willing to fund 25 per cent of the economic and health benefit study and, on Friday the Queensbury Tunnel campaign announced Bradford City Council agreed to part-fund the study, too.
Campaigners say the tunnel should be viewed as “a health asset for Bradford children for generations to come” and a “magnificent” piece of the city’s industrial heritage that will attract visitors. They compare it to the Two Tunnels cycling and walking route near Bath, which receives approximately 265,000 visitors per year.
Before Bradford City Council reportedly agreed to part-fund the study, a spokesman said: “We are continuing to investigate the options around the future of Queensbury Tunnel. However, the tunnel is owned by Highways England and would need a considerable investment of funding to see it re-opened and maintained in the future.”
Mike Babbitt, Sustrans Head of Network Development in the North of England said: “Sustrans recognise that the Queensbury Tunnel could provide a link in the West Yorkshire Cycle Network. Sustrans appreciates that the anticipated cost of opening the tunnel for public use is significantly above that for making the tunnel safe. Reopening the tunnel would require commitment and support from the Councils of both Bradford and Calderdale as well as raising public funds to carry out the necessary repair work and build the cycle track. An initial step to investigate the viability of this is to explore what the economic impact of reopening the tunnel to the public would be.”