CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save a historic railway tunnel from closure have claimed "non-essential" work is underway at the site despite the Government-mandated lockdown.

The Victorian structure, which runs for 1.4 miles beneath the village has been at the centre of a longstanding battle over its future.

Campaigners, led by the Queensbury Tunnel Society (QTS), believe it should be restored for public use as part of a greenway connecting Bradford and Halifax.

Highways England, which manages the tunnel for the Department for Transport is seeking to fill parts of it in over safety concerns. It has previously said unless major work is carried out on the tunnel, the "level of safety risk to the community increases" and action needs to be taken.

In May last year, a planning application to infill parts of Queensbury Tunnel was submitted and has so far attracted more than 6,400 objections.

Just last month, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps threw his weight behind the campaign to re-open it, telling the Telegraph & Argus: “Queensbury Tunnel, I’ve taken a specific personal interest in it. The plan and official advice was to fill it in but I have specifically prevented that from happening to work with local leaders and the Combined Authority to come up with a better solution.

“That’s an asset but at the moment it’s unclear what a tunnel from here to Halifax would do and what would run through it and is that bicycles or a light train or a tram."

QTS said work at the site has been suspended for the past six months, but on Tuesday, April 14, the contractor returned and staff have been working in the tunnel "around the clock".

Graeme Bickerdike, Engineering Co-ordinator for QTS, said: “The precise nature of the planned works has not yet been confirmed, but there’s really nothing left to do that’s not part of the main abandonment scheme. In the absence of a clear statement to the contrary from Highways England, we therefore have to presume they are intending to undertake works for which they have sought - but not yet received - planning permission.”

QTS leader Norah McWilliam added: “It’s irresponsible of Highways England to begin a phase of non-essential works during the coronavirus lockdown, requiring its contractor to manage the additional requirements of social distancing within the confined space of the tunnel, the site cabins and in vans travelling to and from site.

“These works are unwelcome, unnecessary, premature and no doubt place another significant cost burden on the taxpayer’s shoulders. Highways England recently assured us that they would not undertake any works which might be prejudicial to the tunnel’s reopening until a decision over its future had been reached."

A spokesperson for Highways England said: “We have carried out small, but essential, safety repairs to tunnel lining and steel panels. If we didn’t do this the structure would be at even more risk, which could impact the potential to bring it back into use.

"Nothing has been done to prejudice ongoing discussions between Bradford Council and the tunnel owner, the Department for Transport. All our sites have strict safeguarding measures, in line with Public Health England guidance, to prevent the spread of COVID19.”