WORK at the historic Queensbury Tunnel has had to be scaled down due to flooding – after water was “deliberately diverted”.

Highways England, which manages the 1.4-mile long railway tunnel on behalf of the Department for Transport, hit back at campaigners who are fighting to save the tunnel from closure after they highlighted the latest twist in the long-running saga over its future.

Campaigners want to see the tunnel reopened as the “jewel” in a multi-million pound Bradford-Halifax Greenway. It has hit headlines in recent years because of plans by Highways England’s Historic Railway Estates to fill in the tunnel, which it says has received the highest risk ranking since September 2013.

In the latest twist, the Queensbury Tunnel Society (QTS) say that last year, a pumping station at the Halifax end of the tunnel was switched off after Highways England twice failed to pay the £50 annual rent for the land on which it is sited, resulting in around 8.2 million gallons of floodwater collecting in the tunnel between September and December 2018.

The society say contractor AMCO-Giffen had removed around 80 per cent of the water using a temporary pump, before the area was hit by a prolonged period of heavy rain late last month.

“The water level in the tunnel began to rise on September 26. Hole Bottom Beck, the watercourse into which the floodwater is being discharged, was already running high and overtopping its banks in places. Pumping was suspended in the early hours of September 29 and, three days later, the flooding had returned to its level in January,” said QTS.

Graeme Bickerdike, engineering co-ordinator for QTS, said: “It’s an inescapable fact that if the rent had been paid on the pumping station, the tunnel would still be clear of water and the original programme of preparatory works for abandonment - costed at £550,000 - would have been completed months ago. Instead the taxpayer is footing the bill for an alternative pumping system and significant associated strengthening of the tunnel which look like adding £2.5 million to the bill.

“Then there’s the estimated £400K spent on legal action to facilitate construction of the pumping station; that’s also gone to waste. Responsibility for the current fiasco and huge escalation in costs lies solely with Highways England. However, over the past few months, they’ve made a number of unfounded allegations against third parties in an attempt to deflect attention.”

Norah McWilliam, the society’s leader, urged Highways England to engage in “meaningful dialogue.”

In response, a Highways England spokesperson said: “Contractors have scaled down activity in the tunnel because the southern section flooded in late September due to water that was deliberately diverted - not by us. Up until September 27 our contractors had cleared water in the tunnel up to an area where partial strengthening work was due to begin but this area is now wholly unsafe and work can’t progress.

"This deliberate diversion of water into the tunnel will take an estimated further five weeks to clear the tunnel back to the position it was in on September 27.

"Highways England doesn’t own the tunnel and doesn’t have the authority to open it. Any negotiations and agreements with adjoining landowners are a matter for the DfT as the owner of the tunnel.”