SAT, FEB 29, 2020
West Yorkshire Combined Authority has requested £23m to save the tunnel and build a cycle route, but Highways England wants to fill it in
Highways England has been accused of wasting taxpayers’ money after it was revealed that it is spending almost £5,000 a week on CCTV inside the disused Queensbury Tunnel in West Yorkshire. Campaigners want to see the tunnel become part of a cycle route connecting Bradford and Halifax, but Highways England is seeking planning permission to fill the tunnel due to perceived safety concerns.
The Queensbury Tunnel was closed more than 60 years ago and is currently managed by Highways England on behalf of the Department for Transport. It is seeking to fill the tunnel at an estimated cost of £7m.
At the same time, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) has applied for £23m to turn the tunnel into a “high quality cycling route.”
Referring to work carried out on behalf of Highways England, WYCA has warned: “The opportunity to deliver the scheme is finely balanced; without certainty over funding being available to carry out further development work and deliver the scheme, measures to ensure public safety may progress to the point where the opportunity is lost.”
Contractor AMCO-Giffen spent much of last year undertaking preparatory works inside the tunnel but withdrew most of its equipment in early October after six days of persistent heavy rain caused floodwater to reach the tunnel’s midpoint.
It then started filling in the No 2 Shaft – an act that was described as “ruthless vandalism” by the Queensbury Tunnel Society, which is campaigning for the tunnel to be preserved.
Since then, work has been suspended, but Highways England continues to fund the operation of a generator, lighting and CCTV system to record anyone attempting to enter the tunnel.
According to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the weekly cost of the CCTV operation is £4,704, meaning that the bill since the site was stood down is approaching £100,000.
“It’s become very clear that Highways England couldn’t care less about how much public money it wastes,” commented the leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, Norah McWilliam.
“Last year, about £1.2 million was squandered on pumping floodwater out of the tunnel, but today its level is exactly the same as when they started. Now they’re frittering away tens of thousands of pounds monitoring people supposedly trying to get into a tunnel which has better security than many prisons.”
The entrance to the tunnel is protected by three-metre high steel gates, anti-vandal grease and razor wire. Despite this, two “urban explorers” were able to gain access last September with the gate left unlocked and unattended for between half-an-hour and 90 minutes most evenings.
The Queensbury Tunnel Society says that locals have also reported clouds of blue smoke coming from the generator’s exhaust and the smell of burning fuel in the air.
“If they kept the gates locked, that would be sufficient,” said McWilliam. “At what point will Highways England be called to account for this misuse of taxpayers’ money and the unnecessary air pollution they’re causing?”
The planning application for the tunnel’s partial infilling has recently had to be re-advertised after changes were made to the proposed scheme following the work carried out under emergency powers in October. So far, more than 6,300 people have lodged objections to the plans.
A decision on the Bradford-Halifax Greenway cycle route is expected first.