CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save a Victorian railway tunnel from closure as part of a multi-million-pound cycle plan have slammed Highways England’s use of emergency planning powers.

Queensbury Tunnel, which runs for 1.4 miles between Bradford and Halifax, is at the centre of a long-running dispute over its future.

It has hit headlines 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.

The application, which has attracted almost 4,200 objections, has not yet been determined. The saga took another twist earlier this week when work began, under emergency planning powers, to ensure safety work could go ahead.

The Department for Transport , which owns the controversial site, took the unusual step over fears one of the air shafts may collapse because of its “increasingly deteriorating condition” caused by the amount of water flowing into a shaft.

The work – infilling the shaft – has thrown the re-opening of the tunnel into doubt, with Highways England admitting the safety procedures will make it “more challenging” to bring it back into use.

But the Queensbury Tunnel Society (QTS) believes the measures go too far and do not need to be implemented.

Graeme Bickerdike, engineering co-ordinator for the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said the suggestion that either staff or equipment were in any way at risk “is just another example of Highways England’s ridiculous hyperbole”.

He said the shaft and supporting tunnel lining are in “generally fair condition”.

QTS leader Norah McWilliam added: “This is nothing short of ruthless vandalism on Highways England’s part. There is no emergency situation at this shaft; in fact there’s no real situation of any kind there.

“This is not over. In fact we’ve been advised that the material being tipped down the shaft could be removed and used as the foundations for the cycle track.”

A Bradford Council spokesperson said: “The Council is pressing the Department for Transport and Highways England for the necessary authorisation or other legal basis for their works and we are taking external advice on our options.”

A Highways England spokesperson said:“This is not a decision taken lightly and the highest level of legal advice has been taken.

“The infilling of the shaft in this manner means that any reopening is going to be more challenging, however it could be reversed if an alternative owner came forward to reopen the tunnel in future.

“In the meantime our priority is completing the emergency work to ensure both the safety of those communities living close by and the workforce who need to maintain it.”