Highways England has been accused of “a bloody-minded refusal to look for a positive outcome” with regards to the Queensbury Tunnel in West Yorkshire. The tunnel would form a key part of a proposed cycle route linking Bradford District and Calderdale, yet Highways England has rejected a request to pause abandonment while a bid to fund its repair is considered by the Department for Transport (DfT).
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 permanently close the tunnel due to perceived safety concerns.
In October, it ceased inspection and repair works on safety grounds, citing flooding. It then started filling in the No 2 Shaft. At the time, the Queensbury Tunnel Society described that move as an act of “ruthless vandalism.”
Last month we reported how the West Yorkshire Combined Authority had applied for £23m from the government to repair the tunnel and build the cycle route via the Transforming Cities Fund (TCF).
The application warned that without action soon, “measures to ensure public safety may progress to the point where the opportunity is lost.”
Bradford Council has therefore asked Highways England to pause abandonment work until May 5, 2020, by which time a decision on funding should have been reached.
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.”
Further questions have also been raised about the infilling of the No 2 Shaft.
An engineer from Jacobs – who provide professional services to Highways England – is said to have concluded that “significant deterioration” had occurred based only on a text description.
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.”
Graeme Bickerdike, Engineering Co-ordinator for the Queensbury Tunnel Society, commented: “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’.”
Bickerdike went on to claim that contractors had been “scratching around for bits of evidence” to justify the decision.
“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.”