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Minsterial visit to Queensbury Tunnel

Under Secretary of State for Transport Robert Goodwill will visit Queensbury Tunnel on Monday 23rd June, following his speech in Leeds last month where he expressed the view that more disused railways have the potential to become dedicated cycleways. Joining the Minister will be Gary Verity, Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, as well as high-level representatives from Bradford and Calderdale councils. Mr Goodwill’s visit is in response to an invitation from the Queensbury Community Heritage & Action Partnership (Q-CHAP) which is campaigning to preserve the tunnel for public benefit.

The tunnel could become an extension of the existing Great Northern Railway Trail which has been created by Sustrans and Bradford Council. The mile and a half long structure would link the Trail to Holmfield and Halifax, and so has the potential to be a vital part of the region’s growing cycle network.

The Highways Agency will soon undertake an engineering survey to assess the cost of repairs needed to safeguard properties above the tunnel. Thereafter, the decision has to be made either to seal and abandon it or undertake the works in a way that preserves the passageway through which, in Q-CHAP’s view, needs to be protected until the next stage of a cycleway project can begin. The Highways Agency report is expected in the autumn and the timing of the Minister’s visit is critical: the position of the Department for Transport will influence the decision-making process.

Whilst the Highways Agency does not have the remit to develop a cycleway through the tunnel, Sustrans is keen to follow on and undertake the necessary works as long as the brick and stone lining can be made structurally sound. Several other former railway tunnels have benefited from similar projects and there is growing evidence that such routes give a good return for the money spent on them. As well as providing safe, off-road options for commuters and leisure users, they are a big attraction for visitors, helping to boost local trade and tourism.

Q-CHAP is hoping the Minister will agree that Queensbury Tunnel is a great asset for Yorkshire. As a legacy of the Tour de France, it could boost cycling and walking in a beautiful corner of the county, as well as standing testimony to the local textile and transport heritage for many generations to come.

Norah McWilliam, who leads Q-CHAP, said: “2018 will be the 140th anniversary of the tunnel’s opening. Given the go-ahead, we think Bradford and Halifax could become proud joint hosts to a fantastic sporting event - the Queensbury Tunnel Triathlon. Why not? This is a once-only opportunity to ensure a fantastic piece of our industrial past plays a key role in our transport future. We need to grab that opportunity with both hands.”

Press and media outlets, together with campaign supporters, are invited to attend the event which will start at the north portal of Queensbury Tunnel at 11:00am on Monday 23rd June. The portal is located 400m from the bottom of Station Road, Queensbury (BD13 1HR), at the end of a track which heads left off the Great Northern Railway Trail, 200m from its start point. The Minister will go on to visit Black Dyke Mills and Victoria Hall.

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Journalists should email any enquiries to u2us@queensburytunnel.org.uk

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Issued 19th June 2014

Anniversary marks new future for tunnel

21st May 2014 marks the 140th anniversary of work starting on the Great Northern Railway’s tunnel under Queensbury which is currently the focus of a campaign to save it for use as host to a cycle path.

The 2,501-yard bore was built as part of a line connecting Halifax with Bradford and Keighley. It was expected that construction would take two years but the contractors, Messrs Benton & Woodiwiss of Derby, were confronted by significant difficulties at every stage. Two of its seven construction shafts had to be abandoned due to the amount of water entering the workings and it was not until a gang of Welsh miners arrived with a rock drilling machine that the pilot tunnel was completed in October 1877. More than four years had elapsed before the first train passed through on 14th October 1878. By that time, at least eight navvies had been killed and many more horrendously injured.

Closed in 1956, Cambridge University established a seismological station in the tunnel during the 1970s to record earth tremors, scientists often sleeping in a hut between Nos. 3 and 4 shafts. After they moved out, railway research teams undertook trials of grouting techniques in the tunnel, drilling holes through the arch before pumping material into the voids behind it. In 2009, consultants working on behalf of British Railways Board (Residuary), the tunnel’s then-owner, completed a study into its condition and future management. Their preferred option was to fill the shafts and parts of the tunnel, then bury its ends, effectively removing it as a liability.

But the Queensbury Community Heritage and Action Partnership (Q-CHAP) believes the tunnel could play a role in revitalising the economic fortunes of the village by helping to attract visitors. It wants any remedial works to be engineered in such a way that a through route is retained, allowing a future cycle path to be laid in the tunnel. An e-petition to that end has already secured more than 1,100 signatories. Queensbury Tunnel would form a cornerstone of the Partnership’s overall strategy, which would also see it establish a community presence at the iconic Black Dyke Mills complex, linked to the tunnel by a refurbished Station Road.

Q-CHAP’s first open meeting will be held on Thursday 15th May at 7pm in Holy Trinity Parish Church, in an effort to build public support for its aims. Amongst those speaking will be Paul Osborne, the new Regional Director of sustainable transport charity Sustrans which is leading negotiations with the Highways Agency, the tunnel’s current owner.

The meeting will be followed on Sunday 18th May by Cycle Queensbury’s Family Fun Rides event - this year dubbed the Tour de Queensbury - along the Great Northern Railway Trail. Hundreds of local people are expected to gather on the site of Queensbury’s former railway station to start rides of three or six miles along the old line to Thornton and back. Refreshments will be available as well as a free bike maintenance service. At lunchtime, there will be a gathering at the tunnel’s northern entrance where those in attendance will hear about its history and possible role in a strategic cycle route between Halifax and Bradford/Keighley, known as the Fresh Aire scheme.

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Issued 13th May 2014

T&A article is old news

On 3rd May 2014, Bradford’s Telegraph & Argus (T&A) published an article which appeared to cast doubt over a proposal to establish a shared path through the disused railway tunnel under Queensbury, suggesting that “funding will be an issue”. But Q-CHAP (Queensbury Community Heritage and Action Partnership), the campaign group promoting the idea, insists the story is old news.

The T&A asserts that the Highways Agency Historical Railways Estate (HAHRE), which owns the tunnel, has “no cash” to carry out the extensive repairs needed to make the structure safe, without which the public would not be able to use it. However the article is somewhat misleading in that HAHRE’s engineers have not yet made a submission for funding as the precise scope of the necessary works has not been confirmed. Currently around 40% of the tunnel is flooded and it has therefore not been possible to access this section with a view to determining its condition. As the article acknowledges, HAHRE’s intention is to pump out the water over the summer to allow a full inspection to take place.

HAHRE set out this position to Q-CHAP campaigners in March, confirming that £750,000 of funding is in place to complete this initial work. It also made clear its intention “to work with stakeholders to look further into the technical viability of using the tunnel as a cycle path”.

Last Thursday (1st May 2014), Queensbury Tunnel’s potential as host to a shared path was highlighted by Robert Goodwill MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport whose portfolio includes the promotion of cycling. Speaking in Leeds, he said “I think there is the potential to put even more…lost railways back into use as dedicated cycle ways. For example, I know the Queensbury tunnel is one potential option between Halifax and Bradford. So I want us all to identify opportunities to use existing assets better. Where there is the demand, and the value-for-money case can be made, it should be possible to bring them back to life.”

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Issued 4th May 2014

Overview of the Queensbury Tunnel campaign

The largely rural communities to the west of Bradford often feel overlooked in terms of investment as, perhaps understandably, attention tends to be focussed on the significant social challenges faced closer to the city centre. It should however be recognised that, here in Queensbury, we have our issues too. Just recently, an outstanding opportunity has presented itself which, if taken, could bring long-term benefits both to the immediate district and the wider Yorkshire region.

Queensbury Tunnel is a mile-and-a-half long disused railway tunnel which lies broadly on the route between Halifax and Bradford/Keighley. The hill it passes through is more than 400 feet high. Sustrans has a long-standing aspiration to create a connection between the Aire and Calder valleys along which it is already developing cycle paths, and the existing Great Northern Railway Trail would form part of that link. Plans are also being progressed for a path northwards from Halifax. However the hill Queensbury stands on acts as a substantial barrier to the overall goal being realised. Whilst the tunnel has long been recognised as the perfect host for an Aire-Calder connection, its generally poor condition has ruled this out.

However the Highways Agency Historical Railways Estate (HAHRE), owners of the tunnel, is seeking funding for a programme of remedial works to ensure the structure does not pose a threat to the dwellings built above it. This work is likely to cost £3-5 million. The preferred solution identified in a 2009 consultants’ report is to pour concrete plugs at several locations within the tunnel, backfill the shafts and then abandon it. The community, supported by relevant agencies (Sustrans, local Councils), would like the work to be engineered in such a way that a route through the tunnel is maintained, eventually allowing a cycle path to be laid joining the proposed Halifax route to the Great Northern Railway Trail. This same approach was taken with Glenfield Tunnel in 2008 when Leicester City Council inserted 38 concrete rings to provide strengthening at locations where the lining was distorted.

Given the significance and scale of Queensbury Tunnel, we believe that a path through it would become a honeypot attraction - as evidenced by the Two Tunnels scheme in Bath - bringing visitors to the area from far afield, as well as opening a strategic corridor which would be used extensively for both leisure and commuting.

But the door to this opportunity will not be open for long. By the autumn of 2014, HAHRE will have to decide on the design for its remedial works. There is a strongly held view locally that, in the current age of austerity, the taxpayer ought to derive some benefit from the multi-million pound works in the tunnel.

We are seeking broad political support for our campaign objectives, as outlined above, and are encouraging those with influence to lobby the Highways Agency on our behalf to ensure that this once-only opportunity is not lost forever. The tunnel needs to remain open as it is of genuine historic, social and economic value.

For our part, we will continue our efforts to push the campaign forward, both in heart and minds, and on the ground. Sustrans is considering options for a route out of the tunnel at the south end, across the property of a local landowner who has generously expressed his willingness to look favourably at its proposals. There is increasing engagement from Bradford and Calderdale Councils, as well as several local MPs, who recognise the positive impact a path through the tunnel could have on this area. And the Highways Agency has committed to working with stakeholders to assess the technical viability of using the tunnel to host a cycle path.

Things are looking pretty positive.

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Issued 26th March 2014

Response to letter in Bradford T&A (27th February 2014)

Mr Rhodes is entirely wrong in supposing that the Queensbury Tunnel campaign is asking Bradford Council to spend millions (‘Cycle Surprise’ 27th Feb). Repairs to the tunnel are essential to protect properties above the tunnel, particularly in the vicinities of the ventilation shafts that are at risk of collapse. Responsibility for the repairs lies with the Highways Agency, not Bradford MDC. One option is to fill the shafts by creating boxed concrete pillars allowing reduced width passageway for cyclists and walkers on either side. A further option is to insert concrete sleeves to maintain a near full-width through route. The cheapest option is to fill the shafts with vast amounts of concrete thereby destroying the tunnel passageway forever. This cheapest option will cost millions. Does Mr Rhodes really want millions of public money to be spent on destroying a magnificent piece of Yorkshire’s industrial heritage whose preservation has the potential to boost our local economy? Work is scheduled to begin later this year. This opportunity for Bradford and Halifax is too good to miss. We only have to look at the success of the TwoTunnels project at Bath to know that our own tunnel vision is worth every penny.

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Issued 28th February 2014

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