EXPERTS can’t yet tell whether it would be good value-for-money to turn a disused railway tunnel into a new cycle route, a new study shows.

Researchers at transport charity Sustrans say the ambitious scheme to transform the Queensbury Tunnel would create “the second longest underground cycle route in Europe”, but the multi-million pound project could either represent good or poor value - depending on whose estimate of the cost of the works turns out to be most accurate.

Highways England estimates it would cost a massive £35.4m to restore the tunnel, but the Queensbury Tunnel Society, which is campaigning for the project to go ahead, says it would cost a fraction of the price at just £4.3m.

The Sustrans study says: “Benefit-to-cost ratios are dependent on accurate costs, so more accurate benefit-to-cost ratios cannot be calculated until more defined costs for reopening Queensbury Tunnel are collected.”

Sustrans was commissioned by Bradford Council to appraise the benefits of creating a network of new cycling routes between Halifax, Bradford and Keighley, both with and without a reopened tunnel.

It looked at 11 possible combinations of new or upgraded routes, five which included reopening the tunnel and six which did not.

Of the five possible schemes which included the tunnel, all five were described as being either low or poor value for money, if Highways England’s £35.4m cost of the scheme turned out to be right.

But if the campaigners’ £4.3m estimate was right, and a potential boost to tourism was also factored in, three of the five possible tunnel schemes were rated as high value for money - boosting the economy by up to £37.5m over 30 years.

Two schemes which did not involve reopening the tunnel, but would both see an off-road cycling route created from Queensbury to Bradford, were ranked as offering the joint best value.

Campaigners said they were buoyed by the findings.

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “We want to thank Sustrans for the time and effort they’ve put into this complex and wide-ranging study, one which has been complicated by the many uncertainties involved.

“In its current form, it does indicate that - when the tourist potential is recognised - three of the five scenarios incorporating Queensbury Tunnel present high value for money. We regard that as a good outcome.”

A spokesman for Bradford Council said: “This Sustrans report was helpful in identifying some of the potential benefits the Queensbury Tunnel could bring if re-opened as a cycleway.

“We now need to do more work to get an accurate idea of the costs of such a scheme, both in bringing it back in to use and maintaining it for future generations. That work is still on-going.

“The boost to the local economy of £37m quoted in the report assumes a number of other developments to the surrounding cycle network that would themselves require significant additional investment.”