A campaign group in West Yorkshire has questioned the Government’s commitment to cycling investment after the Department for Transport (DfT) offered only a fraction of the funding needed to construct a greenway between two of the county’s biggest population centres via a 1.4-mile long disused railway tunnel.
The Queensbury Tunnel was closed more than 60 years ago and is currently managed by Highways England on behalf of the DfT.
Highways England wants to fill the tunnel at an estimated cost of £7m. Meanwhile, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) has proposed a “high quality cycling route” that would link Bradford with Halifax and applied for £23m to carry out the project.
The Queensbury Tunnel Society (QTS), which has campaigned for the route for the last seven years, believes it would offer a realistic long-term alternative to steep, congested roads for the 14,300 commuters who travel daily between the two areas.
An assessment of the greenway’s likely value, recently released by Bradford Council, concluded that it would return £5.60 in social and economic benefits for every £1 invested – a figure that increases further when leisure and tourism is also factored in.
Despite this, the DfT recently sent Bradford Council a “best and final offer” of £4m and gave it just four days to respond.
The deadline has now passed, although discussions continue.
In an open letter to Transport Minister Grant Shapps, who publicly backed a plan to reopen the disused tunnel in March, the leader of the QTS, Norah McWilliam, said: “The ‘best and final offer’ to Bradford Council for the transfer of Queensbury Tunnel into its ownership, which came from your office last week, has caused deep dismay and bewilderment to the thousands of people and the local and national organisations who, since your statement earlier this year, had been expecting something a good deal more positive.
“In March you described the tunnel as an asset and stated that you would ‘work with local leaders and the Combined Authority to come up with a better solution’ than the official objective of partially filling it in, which you had ‘specifically prevented’.
“On this basis we believed that you fully appreciated the importance of Queensbury Tunnel as a strategic connector between Bradford District and Calderdale, and its potential to create economic, health, social and environmental benefits for our region.”
She continued: “Since March you have announced a £2 billion investment in walking and cycling to build on the huge upturn in active travel seen during the coronavirus outbreak. Yet it seems that you have failed to recognise that the £7 million project to abandon Queensbury Tunnel, which is still been progressed by Highways England, would prevent any direct future link between the emerging cycle network in Calderdale and those around Leeds/Bradford.
“Giving Bradford Council four days to decide whether it can accept an offer for the tunnel which would not even pay for its repair does not sit comfortably with your previous statements. Moreover, given the value, iconic nature and deliverability of the proposed Bradford-Halifax Greenway, your offer calls into question the Government’s commitment to active travel and its intention to ‘level up infrastructure and regenerate local economies’ as you announced on 23rd May.”