THE historic Queensbury Tunnel would be the "jewel" in a multi-million pound Bradford-Halifax Greenway, campaigners fighting to save it from closure say.

And a senior Bradford councillor has called on Highways England to withdraw its application to fill in the tunnel. 

It comes as efforts to create a foot and cycle connection between the two districts step up a gear, with the publication of an 'advocacy document' to support funding bids.

The proposal, which is supported by Bradford and Calderdale councils, Sustrans, the Great Northern Railway Trail Development Group and the Queensbury Tunnel Society, would link communities either side of the ridge which separates the two districts.

Passing close to several schools and colleges, the new route would follow the Thornton Road corridor out of Bradford before disappearing underground into the historic Queensbury railway tunnel. It would then emerge at Holmfield, from where it would head down the valley into Halifax.

Campaigners believe it would become a magnet for tourists as a landmark addition to the country’s cycle network and offer the potential for commuting trips between the Bradford district and Calderdale.

At 1.4 miles in length, Queensbury Tunnel would be the Greenway's focal point and, if re-opened, would be the longest cycling tunnel in the country.

Earlier this month, Highways England's Historic Railways Estates officially lodged plans to infill the tunnel with Bradford Council and said: "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.”

Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, Bradford Council's Portfolio Holder for Regeneration, Planning & Transport, said: “The evidence shows that a Bradford-Halifax Greenway with Queensbury Tunnel as the jewel at its heart would provide a huge boost to the district economically and for our tourism and leisure industries.

"Our advocacy document outlines this and has a huge range of support from the National Science & Media Museum, Sustrans, the Civic Society and many others.

“I’m calling on Highways England to withdraw their planning application and get round the table with Bradford Council to talk about how we can sustainably fund this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save and restore the tunnel as part of a greenway of national significance.”

The Bradford-Halifax Greenway - or CityConnect 3 - would run directly through a growth corridor being developed by local councils and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

The route would cost around £16 million to construct, but campaigners say it's expected to return £2.31 in benefits for every £1 invested.

They say an estimated £10.8 million in tourism benefits would be accrued over 30 years, with much of that figure resulting from the inclusion of Queensbury Tunnel.

Judith Cummins MP, within whose Bradford South constituency most of the tunnel lies, said: “It’s important for local people to support the campaign and register an objection to the destruction of the Queensbury Tunnel, which 3,000 people have already done.

"It shows what it means to residents in Bradford and Halifax, and that they do not want a historical asset to be forever lost.

“A renovated tunnel would form the centrepiece of a cycle and walk trail connecting Bradford with Halifax, which would be enjoyed by current and future generations.”

While Halifax MP Holly Lynch said: “I’m proud to support the campaign to save this historic gem which could play a key role in promoting sustainable transport and attracting tourists.

"We know that there are increasing numbers of foreign visitors coming to our region after seeing the Tour de Yorkshire and wouldn’t it be fantastic if our local area could offer both the longest continuous climb in England at Cragg Vale and the longest cycle tunnel?

“It’s a great shame that this engineering triumph could be lost forever and, having met with the tunnel campaigners and heard the strength of feeling from the local community, it’s getting my full backing.”

The development of the advocacy document was led by Bradford Council and it was launched at an event in Queensbury’s Victoria Hall today, attended by MPs, councillors, cycling campaigners and members of the local community.

The document says the level of funding required totals £23.3 million.

"Initial funding from the residual of the Historical Railways Estate abandonment works of circa £2m could be allocated to the tunnel project as an initial dowry.

"However, funding for the residual £21.3m is still needed."

Bradford Council and Calderdale Council are working in conjunction with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority to explore potential sources of funding.

An initial £300k to do further feasibility work is required to "bolster the case and further demonstrate that the £23m represents a good investment of taxpayers' money."

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “We’re presented with a now-or-never opportunity.

"If we’re serious about meeting our long-term environmental and health obligations, we must commit to schemes like the Bradford-Halifax Greenway.

“We certainly cannot allow Highways England’s questionable judgement to destroy a magnificent feat of engineering that could still play a valuable transport role.”

Councillor Jane Scullion, Deputy Leader of Calderdale Council, added: “Encouraging people to leave their car at home and instead use active travel methods is a priority for Calderdale Council. Now more than ever, we need to be taking bold steps to ensure we provide high-quality, sustainable alternatives to driving.

“The opening up of the Queensbury tunnel would transform access from the north of Halifax to west Bradford and complement the wider strategic cycle networks planned in both boroughs. This is a unique opportunity to preserve and utilise a historic asset and leave a legacy for future generations.”