CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save the historic Queensbury Tunnel from closure have accused Highways England of “pure hypocrisy”

While plans to infill the tunnel have been lodged with Bradford Council, there are hopes it could be safeguarded for the future and reopened as part of a new greenway connecting Bradford and Calderdale.

Highways England has said the tunnel needs to be closed “to reduce the risk to the community around Queensbury Tunnel”, but the plan has been met with fierce objection.

Last week, defiant landowner David Sunderland, who owns the land and and former railway cutting at the south end, said he would not co-operate with any works to abandon the tunnel.

In the latest chapter in the long-running battle, the Queensbury Tunnel Society (QTS) claim to have obtained unpublished plans which show Highways England’s intention to infill the tunnel with concrete beneath six ventilation shafts identified as the cause of greatest concern.

QTS say the ‘plugs’ would have extended for 17 metres between blockwork bulkheads. However, campaigners say the latest plans, submitted last month, show the use of a lightweight aggregate fill retained by steel baskets for three metres either side of each shaft. The society says it is understood that it’s a system previously untested for applications of this type.

Graeme Bickerdike, Engineering Co-ordinator for the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said while concrete shaft support plugs would have "effectively lasted forever", steel mesh baskets "will eventually corrode".

"Highways England needs to explain how long these support structures will remain serviceable for and what will happen thereafter, as they cannot be maintained or replaced once the tunnel is sealed,” he said.

Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said: “This is pure hypocrisy. For the past three years Highways England has been justifying its abandonment scheme on the basis of the tunnel being a short-term threat to the community, despite having no evidence to demonstrate this. Now it’s seeking Council approval for compromise proposals involving cheaper materials which increase the long-term risks to properties close to the shafts. Cutting corners to save money often comes at a high price."

A spokesperson for Highways England said: “Safety is our main priority and our work at Queensbury Tunnel is to reduce the risk to surrounding community.

“Our contractors have vast experience of working in similar challenging environments and this experience has helped identify alternative materials and approaches which can be used within the tunnel. Recent inspections of the tunnel have revealed that its condition continues to deteriorate.

"The condition of other previously good sections of the tunnel has worsened because of the unprecedented levels of flooding within the tunnel.

“The deliberate diversion of additional water from Strines Beck into the already flooded southern portal of the tunnel has made work in the tunnel difficult. This has created additional risk to both the safety of our contractors working with the tunnel and has also increased the times and cost of pumping out the significantly increased volume of water.

“Our ongoing work has been delivered so it doesn’t prejudice the tunnel being re-opened by another statutory body in the future. We continue to work closely with Bradford Council to provide them with the necessary information regarding the current planning application and ownership considerations."