‘WE have to stand up and make our voices heard.”

That was the rallying cry from campaigners fighting to save the Queensbury Tunnel from abandonment after plans to infill the historic structure were officially lodged with Bradford Council by Highways England’s Historic Railway Estates (HEHRE).

It marks a major point in the long-running saga over the tunnel and the Queensbury Tunnel Society (QTS) are urging people to gear up for the “battle ahead”.

The group has been trying to prevent Highways England filling in the Victorian structure, which could cost up to £3.6 million, in order to secure its future as the centrepiece of a cycle path network connecting Halifax to Bradford and Keighley.

Bradford Council said the application will be processed in accordance with the laws and policies it follows, but said: "Independent of that process, as approved by the Council’s Executive Committee we believe the tunnel can still form part of a Bradford to Halifax greenway and are putting the finishing touches to an advocacy document that makes the case for this transformational investment.

"We have requested a meeting with Highways England to discuss next steps and will continue to make the case that a pause on any proposed sealing of the tunnel should take place while potential funding opportunities are explored.”

Meanwhile, QTS said: “The Queensbury Tunnel Society has been expecting this planning application for many months and will, of course, be lodging an objection, alongside our many supporters.

“Nearly 11,000 people have signed our ePetition calling for the tunnel’s preservation so that it may be re-purposed as a cycle/walkway for the benefit of future generations.

“We need time to study the application in detail, but we know that abandonment - i.e the destruction of the tunnel - is at odds with the policies and objectives set out in Bradford Council’s Local Plan.

“We also want to make sure that property owners above and in the vicinity of the tunnel understand that blocking the portals and filling the shafts will leave an inaccessible void, more than a mile in length.

“A considerable influx of water will accelerate its deterioration and instability.The abandonment plan, costing several million pounds, does not ensure public safety - it actually introduces unknown, long-term risks.”

In a further call to arms, the society added: “The next few weeks will likely determine the future of a Victorian engineering miracle that took four years to build at a cost of ten men’s lives.

“Those of us who believe the tunnel should play a positive sustainable transport role supporting future generations now have to stand up and make our voices heard.

“Abandonment - which involves allowing most of the tunnel to collapse beneath the populated part of Queensbury - offers absolutely no return on a public investment likely to reach £5 million. In contrast, according to Bradford Council, a cycle network linking Bradford and Keighley to Halifax via Queensbury Tunnel would deliver £2.31 for every £1 spent on it through social, economic and tourism benefits; the government defines that as ‘high’ value for money.”

The application says: “HEHRE’s priority is to ensure that the tunnel’s condition is stabilised, in the interest of safety, and does not continue indefinitely as a liability to the public purse.

"Every opportunity has been given for other parties to take ownership and responsibility for the tunnel in order to pursue their aspirations for it, and to this end HEHRE has delayed its infilling works, previously programmed to take place in 2018 (subject to securing the necessary planning permission), to assist with this.”

A spokesperson for Highways England said: “We have now submitted our planning application to Bradford Council for further safety work to close Queensbury Tunnel Phase one of the work is almost complete and involves partial short-term strengthening of the most vulnerable areas within the tunnel and will provide a safe working area, including two areas of previous collapse, for any future work undertaken.

“The safety of the community and our contractors is paramount and the Department for Transport, the owners of the tunnel, agree that this work to close the tunnel should be undertaken as soon as possible.”