AMBITIOUS plans to create a shopping arcade, bars and cafes in centuries old tunnels and "dungeons" beneath Bradford have been given the go ahead by Bradford Council.

The Victorian style underground shopping centre will include 12 shops, two bars and a restaurant, as well as market stalls, and could be open by the end of the year.

The brainchild of Graham Hall, of Yeadon based developers Sunbridge Wells, the privately-funded, £1 million development will be built underneath Sunbridge Road, Upper Millergate and Ivegate, with an entrance at the back of City Park.

The tunnel was once used as a nightclub and music venue but has been vacant for decades.

Local artist Trafford Parsons is creating art pieces at the tunnel's entrance, and when complete a small part of the tunnel will be open for the public to see while work commences further down. This is expected to happen in about six weeks' time.

Although the tunnels were thought to date back to the Victorian period, council archaeologists who were asked to look at the application said: "The site includes opening up spaces that have been previously inaccessible, particularly to the public, for many years and possibly centuries. These include dungeons dating back at least to the early 1700s."

Mr Hall said: "It is brilliant news that we have been given planning permission, and I'd really like to thank the planners for how efficient they've been.

"We've already got two potential operators who are interested in running the bars. There will be 12 shops, one restaurant, two bars and 20 flea market style stalls.

"We really hope that this becomes a tourist attraction, you can't get anything like this anywhere else."

When complete, there will be Victorian-style units running along the tunnel's internal street with a large glass area above.

A courtyard will have an open-plan glass and steel staircase leading to Upper Miller Gate, designed to bring light to the tunnel system, covered by a Victorian-style atrium entrance and exit to the shopping area below.

The project has been designed to be attractive to young entrepreneurs.

Approving the application under delegated powers, planning officer Mark Hutchinson said: "In this economic environment, the proposal offers the prospect of investment in an important location.

Cllr Susan Hinchliffe, portfolio holder for regeneration at Bradford Council, said: "It's an initiative which has really captured people's imaginations and another sign of regenerated interest in the city centre. Now the owners have been given planning permission, I look forward to seeing Sunbridge Wells start to take shape."

Mr Hall said he hoped to have the development open by the end of the year or early January.