New threat to tunnel cycle plan

A landowner has said that access to a disused West Yorkshire railway tunnel could be lost because council officials are taking “a ridiculous length of time” to develop plans for reopening it as a foot and cycle path.

As part of an ambitious proposal being considered by local transport bodies, Queensbury Tunnel would form the iconic centrepiece of active travel routes connecting Halifax with Bradford and Keighley. But the future of the structure – which dates from the 1870s – has been in doubt because of flooding and the intention of its custodian, National Highways, to progress a partial infilling scheme.

In July 2020, the Department for Transport committed £1M to fund two studies looking at repair options for the tunnel and the feasibility of incorporating it into a cycle network to the west of Bradford. However the findings have still not been published despite the repairs report being completed more than a year ago.

At its southern end, Queensbury Tunnel emerges onto a site at Holmfield with planning permission for industrial units. “The property is commercially valuable and I’m often contacted by companies who want to make use of it”, says landowner David Sunderland. “I haven’t pursued any schemes because I want the tunnel project to succeed: it’s a fantastic structure – built in conditions we can’t even begin to imagine – and we need to be making the most of assets like this.

“A cycle path through the tunnel would be a great adventure – bringing in tourists, boosting the economy and allowing people to commute safely by bike. But I can’t put my business on hold indefinitely. We need to be responding positively to opportunities to develop the land and bring employment to the area. That’s something we desperately need too.

“I’ve never been contacted by Bradford Council about the tunnel; I’ve no idea what their intentions are and it’s taking a ridiculous length of time for them to get their act together. They’ve had money for the studies for almost two years. What are they playing at? And all I get from National Highways are legal threats and phone calls from the police about flooding.”

In March 2015, Mr Sunderland signed a ten-year lease which allowed National Highways to install equipment and pump floodwater from the 1.4-mile long tunnel. However the company never paid the £50 annual rent and the lease was forfeited, resulting in the pumps being turned off in September 2018. Since then, the landowner has had the right to infill his property right up to the tunnel entrance.

“The landowner is probably our greatest supporter”, says Graeme Bickerdike, Engineering Coordinator for the Queensbury Tunnel Society. “He’s provided us with practical and financial help, as well as granting us unrestricted access to his land. But he’s clearly getting to the point where enough is enough, and we don’t blame him. It’s unreasonable to expect anyone to take a hit on their business for a scheme that’s been rumbling on for nine years and now seems to have entered a state of paralysis.

“We’re as much in the dark as the landowner. Two years ago, Bradford Council promised us regular progress reports on the studies, but we hear nothing of substance. Last October, we were told that it should ‘not be too much longer’ before the next steps can be taken and, in January, the Council said that ‘we will shortly be in a position to share the documents’. But it’s now June and we’re still waiting. As invested stakeholders, the lack of meaningful engagement has been demoralising and continues to erode trust.”

It’s understood that Sustrans has recently been given additional funding to carry out further work on the feasibility study, with completion now expected in July. A previous study found that a Bradford-Halifax cycle route via Queensbury Tunnel would deliver £2.31 in economic, social and tourism benefits for every £1 spent on it, representing high value-for-money.

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “Bradford is planning hundreds of great cultural events as part of its City of Culture status in 2025, but none will match the solid built-in legacy that restoration of the tunnel would bring to communities and the local landscape.

“We have to invest in projects that will make a positive difference in a post-Covid world. Connecting Halifax to Bradford and Keighley via the tunnel represents a unique opportunity to demonstrate ambitious commitment to sustainable transport. We urge decision-makers to seize it and allow this historic structure to play a valuable role again.”

Photo credit: Queensbury Tunnel Society

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