It is looking increasingly likely that the Queensbury Tunnel has a future. That has to be good news, after the long saga of its current owners trying their best to seal it off.
Transport Secretary Grant Schapps has taken a personal interest in the tunnel and has now thrown the Government’s weight behind re-opening it. This is a huge credit to the Queensbury Tunnel Society’s relentless efforts to demonstrate the potential of the tunnel as part of a more sustainable future for the area. On the other hand, Mr Schapps also noted that it could be used for a new light rail or tram network, which would scupper the prospect of the cycling route the society has been campaigning for.
Pragmatically, either a cycling or a public transport option would be an infinitely better solution that putting the tunnel out of sight and out of mind. West Yorkshire needs all the options it can get for reducing car use and responding to the twin challenges of a car-dependent society – carbon emissions and lack of exercise.
What’s more, for central government to take a real interest in our future infrastructure is hugely welcome. For decades, there has been a presumption that a stretch of new or upgraded road, with roundabouts marking the access points for new, low-density housing estates and business parks, amounted to regeneration. And the prospect of a tram or trolleybus system was scuppered well before the age of austerity, leaving West Yorkshire as the only conurbation in the UK without a rapid transit network.
When it boils down, there are two imperatives. The first is reducing car use for the sake of climate and health. Saving Queensbury Tunnel, scrapping the Leeds-Bradford Airport Link Road and – we would argue – also curbing the growth of the airport and scrapping the South-East Bradford Link Road – are all significant parts of that equation. The second is increasing active travel – making walking and cycling the most attractive choice for many, many more journeys than they currently are. Queensbury Tunnel has been promoted as a flagship scheme for active travel, so if it were to become a tram or light rail route, we would also want to see how that would help active travel. It’s worth bearing in mind that bicycles are not currently allowed on Sheffield’s Supertram, and many rail operators are not good at accommodating cyclists either. Integration is key.
Norah McWilliam of the Queensbury Tunnel Society