Highways England this week used emergency powers to infill a ventilation shaft of the Queensbury Tunnel. “This is ruthless vandalism by cowboys and idiots,” said the Queensbury Tunnel Society, which wants to see the tunnel become a key part of the proposed Bradford-Halifax Greenway cycle route.
The Bradford-Halifax Greenway, otherwise known as CityConnect 3, would provide an off-road cycle link between Bradford District and Calderdale.
The route incorporates a 1.4-mile long disused railway tunnel which would flatten the route enough that it could be used by commuters.
A Sustrans study estimated such a project could bring £37.6m in social, economic and tourism benefits over a 30-year period.
The Queensbury Tunnel was closed more than 60 years ago and is currently managed by Highways England on behalf of the Department for Transport. However, the organisation wants to permanently close the tunnel due to perceived safety concerns.
Earlier this week, Highways England announced emergency safety works following recent heavy rain in the area.
"The volume of water entering the tunnel from the southern opening not only endangered the safety of our workforce but also caused the first phase of our safety work to be halted,” said Yorkshire and North East Regional Director, Richard Marshall.
“We had been clear that the first phase of the safety work wouldn’t prevent the tunnel’s future reopening. However, the infilling of the shaft in this manner means that any reopening is now going to be more challenging,” he added.
Marshall said Highways England had, “no option other than to complete this work immediately to ensure both the safety of those communities living close by and the workforce who need to maintain it.”
Infilling began earlier this week, at which point the Queensbury Tunnel Society responded that the flooding was at least in part because a pumping station had been switched off.
They say the pumping station was switched off because Highways England twice failed to pay the £50 annual rent for the land on which it is sited.
Graeme Bickerdike, Engineering Co-ordinator for the Queensbury Tunnel Society, also said that there was no immediate danger from the flooding.
“For rising water to keep up with someone walking in the tunnel, the ingress rate would have to reach about 46,000 litres per second. The actual rate was 72 litres per second.
“Whilst that’s considerable, it’s certainly not unprecedented; something similar happened in January 2016. But the suggestion that either staff or equipment were in any way at risk is just another example of Highways England’s ridiculous hyperbole.
“Both the shaft and the supporting tunnel lining are in generally fair condition. Even if the defective area did fail, there’s no plausible mechanism whereby any effect could be felt at ground level.
“Load paths from the shaft would redistribute through unaffected parts of the tunnel lining and, more importantly, the shaft lining itself was built in two separate sections, with the upper portion independently supported on a rock ledge 39 metres below ground level.”
Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “This is nothing short of ruthless vandalism on Highways England’s part.
“For the past six years, we’ve worked tirelessly to secure this fabulous historic asset as an active travel route, but our efforts have been persistently blighted by Highways England’s failings.
“Once again, their car-crash abandonment scheme has almost been sunk by flooding, so they’ve now resorted to unlawfully abusing emergency powers to keep it afloat. There is no emergency situation at this shaft; in fact there’s no real situation of any kind there.
“If these civil servants think they can get the better of us by attempting to circumvent statutory planning processes, they can think again.
“This is not over. In fact we’ve been advised that the material being tipped down the shaft could be removed and used as the foundations for the cycle track.”
A spokesperson for Bradford Council said: “The Council is pressing DfT and Highways England for the necessary authorisation or other legal basis for their works and taking external advice on its options.”