CAMPAIGNERS pressing for a disused railway tunnel to be reopened as a cycle route have praised supporters after 6,000 objections were lodged against the abandonment of the structure.

The Queensbury Tunnel Society wants the historic 1.4-mile-long structure to be reopened to form the centrepiece of a cycle path network connecting Halifax to Bradford and Keighley.

But Highways England, which manages the tunnel on behalf of the Department for Transport, is seeking planning permission to close and partially infill it amid safety concerns.

The society claims the move would cost £7 million, money it says would be better spent repairing and restoring the tunnel.

Norah McWilliam, the society leader, said: “There is a ridiculous conflict between the stated aims of the Department for Transport and Highways England. They want to encourage more walking and cycling through investment in new active travel routes, but remain intent on the unwarranted destruction of a tunnel which could play a crucial, centrepiece role in a strategic link between two large urban centres.

“As we move towards more sustainable forms of transport, the value of the tunnel as an asset will increase.

“No sound engineering evidence has been provided to justify the abandonment scheme, the design of which is driven by budgetary constraints.

“We’re very grateful to the 6,000 people who have objected to the plans, citing the technical shortcomings and misfit with both local and national planning policies.

“It’s been an unprecedented response and we call on the council to reject Highways England’s application.”

She added that a study by the charity Sustrans suggested that the cycle route would generate £37.6 million in social, economic and tourism benefits over 30 years – returning £2.31 for every £1 spent on it.

Government Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said he is “really keen” on seeing the tunnel reopened if possible and he has agreed to visit the site.

Late last year, West Yorkshire Combined Authority included the tunnel in its submission to the Transforming Cities Fund for major transport infrastructure investment around the Leeds City Region.