The Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, has backed a plan to reopen the disused Queensbury Tunnel in West Yorkshire. Campaigners want to see the tunnel become part of a cycle route connecting Bradford and Halifax and have been fighting Highways England who want to fill it. However, Shapps said it was ‘unclear’ what the tunnel should become and floated the idea of using it for light rail.
The Queensbury Tunnel was closed more than 60 years ago and is currently managed by Highways England on behalf of the Department for Transport.
Highways England is seeking to fill the tunnel at an estimated cost of £7m. At the same time, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) has applied for £23m to turn the tunnel into a "high quality cycling route.”
“Queensbury Tunnel: I’ve taken a specific personal interest in it,” Shapps told the Bradford Telegraph and Argus.
“The plan and official advice was to fill it in but I have specifically prevented that from happening to work with local leaders and the Combined Authority to come up with a better solution.
“That’s an asset but at the moment it’s unclear what a tunnel from here to Halifax would do and what would run through it and is that bicycles or a light train or a tram.
“But if we’re talking about connecting communities then I think we ought to be thinking about what we do with that and that’s something I’ve just been discussing in Bradford this morning.”
Norah McWilliam, the leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said the group was ‘delighted’ at Shapps’ intervention and called on him to instruct Highways England to withdraw its planning application for abandonment.
She went on to say that while the idea of a light railway or tram was “not an altogether impossible notion,” it would demand a different level of restoration and also bring additional questions.
“The tunnel emerges at both ends onto private land and, whilst both landowners are fully supportive of accommodating a greenway, some form of rail/tram route has broader implications for them.
“Furthermore, the topography would make a rail track quite challenging. There would also be a need to maintain something close to the original profile of the tunnel throughout its length and therefore the cost of restoration would be a great deal more expensive than a greenway dedicated to walking and cycling.
“It’s also clear that any light rail or tram scheme would take many years to develop and deliver, whereas a greenway could be in place much more quickly."
She continued: “As well as being a strategic connecting route between two urban centres, our vision is for Queensbury Tunnel to be an exciting heritage destination for tourists, school parties, walkers and cyclists, boosting the local economy and offering new business opportunities, such as bike hire, camping, running and cycling races, cafés and cultural events.
“The greenway would provide a wonderful rural corridor, with much needed fresh-air exercise for families and a healthy alternative route to work, schools and colleges.”