News Releases

2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2014

“Unprecedented” opposition to tunnel abandonment

Campaigners hoping to reopen a disused West Yorkshire railway tunnel as a cycle route have thanked supporters after 6,000 objections were lodged against plans to abandon the structure.

Queensbury Tunnel, connecting Bradford District and Calderdale, is managed on the Department for Transport’s behalf by Highways England who propose to partially infill it due to perceived safety concerns. The work, which involves leaving 88% of the tunnel to collapse, would permanently prevent access for inspection purposes. A planning application for the scheme - which is now expected to cost the taxpayer around £7 million - was published last June.
The Queensbury Tunnel Society believes that the money would be better invested in repairs, restoring the tunnel to a condition suitable for its use as part of a Bradford-Halifax Greenway. In 2018, consultants acting for Bradford Council developed a remediation plan costed at £6.9 million.

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Society, said: “There is a ridiculous conflict between the stated aims of the DfT and Highways England who want to encourage more walking and cycling through investment in new active travel routes, but remain intent on the unwarranted destruction of a 1.4-mile long tunnel which could play a crucial, centrepiece role in a strategic link between two large urban centres. As we move towards more sustainable forms of transport, the value of the tunnel as an asset will increase.

“No sound engineering evidence has been provided by Highways England to justify its abandonment scheme, the design of which is driven by budgetary constraints. We’re very grateful to the 6,000 people who have objected to the plans, citing the technical shortcomings and misfit with both local and national planning policies.

“It’s been an unprecedented response and we call on the council to reject Highways England’s application.”

Supported by other stakeholders, Bradford Council has formally endorsed the greenway proposal and worked with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to develop a £23 million bid to fund construction and long-term maintenance. A decision is expected in the spring. A study by Sustrans suggested that the route would generate £37.6 million in social, economic and tourism benefits over 30 years, returning £2.31 for every £1 spent on it.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps MP recently told Channel 4 News that “I’m really keen on seeing that very environmentally-friendly tunnel reopened if we can get there” and agreed to visit Queensbury to see it as soon as possible. In November, officials from the Department for Transport met counterparts in Bradford Council to discuss funding options for the tunnel and issues around feasibility.

--ENDS--

To link to a video on the Bradford-Halifax Greenway or embed it on your webpage:
(Link) https://youtu.be/LzfdJna0Tno
(Embed) <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/LzfdJna0Tno?rel=0" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>

To view the abandonment plans, or object/comment on them:
http://tiny.cc/TunnelPlans

A collection of high-resolution photos for Media use is available from:
www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/media/imagery.shtml

More general information on the campaign is available from:
www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/

Media enquiries:
media@queensburytunnel.org.uk

Click the icon to download this release as a PDF

Issued 22nd January 2020

Request for tunnel abandonment delay turned down

Highways England has rejected Bradford Council’s request to pause plans for the abandonment of a disused railway tunnel whilst a bid to fund its repair as part of a cycle path scheme is considered by the Department for Transport.

In November, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority included Queensbury Tunnel in its submission to the Transforming Cities Fund for major transport infrastructure investment around the Leeds City Region. WYCA described the structure’s centrepiece role in a proposed Bradford-Halifax Greenway as a “significant opportunity”, providing a viable alternative for the 14,000 people who commute daily between the two districts, mostly by car. A study has suggested that the route would offer high value-for-money, returning £2.31 for every £1 invested in it.

Highways England, who manage Queensbury Tunnel on the Department for Transport’s behalf, have applied for planning permission to abandon it due to perceived safety concerns. However the proposal has met unprecedented opposition, with more than 5,200 objections lodged. Costs have escalated over the past year and are likely to exceed £6.5 million; in 2018, consultants working for Bradford Council costed the tunnel’s repair at £6.9 million.

Following submission of the Transforming Cities bid, planners asked Highways England for consent to push back the determination date for their planning application until 5th May 2020, by which time a decision on funding should have been reached. But Highways England replied that they were “not minded to agree to your extension request and ask that the Council now determine the application.”

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “As the TCF application makes clear, the Bradford-Halifax Greenway is an ambitious proposal which would improve connectivity for communities along that corridor, boost the local economy through tourism and fit with our obligation to address health and air quality issues. It also offers certainty for those living above the tunnel who are faced with the prospect of 88% of it being left to collapse if abandonment goes ahead.

“Rejecting the extension request is another inexplicable act by Highways England. If the funding bid is successful, they could be relieved of all responsibility for the tunnel, something the Department for Transport - as its owner - is keen to achieve. So why are they unwilling to create a little breathing space for decision-making? This attitude amounts to a bloody-minded refusal to look for a positive outcome.”

Meanwhile, more details have emerged about the controversial infilling of one of the tunnel’s ventilation shafts in October 2019. The work relied on powers set out in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 which were only applicable in an emergency threatening “serious damage to human welfare”.

Material obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that a manager from AMCO-Giffen, the abandonment works contractor, emailed Highways England on 3rd October to describe the condition of a refuge in the tunnel’s sidewall, close to the base of No.2 Shaft. He listed a collection of defects including collapsed brickwork, cracking, bulging and mortar loss, all of which had been recorded in photographs of the refuge from 2016 and 2017.

However, based only on a text description, an engineer from Jacobs - who provide professional services to Highways England - concluded that “significant deterioration” had occurred. The potential impact of the refuge’s condition on the shaft was not assessed and, in any case, it did not form part of the shaft’s main support structure.

To help “defend the decision to infill Shaft 2”, the same AMCO-Giffen manager subsequently sent Highways England three brief extracts from an AECOM report about the tunnel, produced for Bradford Council in 2018. The extracts describe the development of minor defects at various locations through the 1.4-mile long tunnel which has seen no substantive maintenance for more than 60 years.

Graeme Bickerdike, Engineering Co-ordinator for the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “The situation at No.2 Shaft had been known about for seven years and although some deterioration had occurred, it was gradual and didn’t come close to threatening ‘serious damage to human welfare’. If they were so worried about it, why hadn’t they implemented the repair designed by Jacobs in 2012?

“The fact that they are scratching around for bits of evidence to justify their actions indicates the shaky grounds on which the decision was made. In an emergency, the evidence should be strong, abundant and unequivocal. This is yet another example of the abandonment team’s inability to assess and communicate risk in a reasonable, proportionate manner. The infilling of the shaft was entirely unwarranted.”

Bradford Council’s planning team have told Jacobs that they “do not accept that the recent works to Shaft 2 do not require planning permission” and that “the Council’s Legal Team will be writing to you separately on this matter”.

--ENDS--

To link to a video on the Bradford-Halifax Greenway or embed it on your webpage:
(Link) https://youtu.be/LzfdJna0Tno
(Embed) <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/LzfdJna0Tno?rel=0" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>

To view the abandonment plans, or object/comment on them:
http://tiny.cc/TunnelPlans

A collection of high-resolution photos for Media use is available from:
www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/media/imagery.shtml

More general information on the campaign is available from:
www.queensburytunnel.org.uk/

Media enquiries:
media@queensburytunnel.org.uk

Click the icon to download this release as a PDF

Issued 3rd January 2020

Latest

“Unprecedented” opposition to tunnel abandonment

Receive News Updates

Thursday 23 January 2020