Queensbury Tunnel – Our Planning Objection

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By Andrew Wood

It is often the case in planning that refusing an application is the gateway to making something happen much, much better than what is being proposed. Queensbury Tunnel is a classic example of such a case.

There is a really positive and exciting prospect that the tunnel could be restored and re-opened as a flagship for active travel in West Yorkshire, and an amazing recreational and heritage attraction too. The current owners, Highways England’s Historical Railway Estates, which manages the tunnel on the Department for Transport’s behalf, have applied to block it up and put it permanently out of use.

It may take a few years for funding to be found to restore the tunnel, but it’s clear that both Bradford and Calderdale Councils want the reopening to happen, and so do the 3,500 objectors to the planning application. The solution to the tunnel’s future may not yet be secure, but to deliberately scupper that future now would be very bad idea. We’re guessing that Bradford Council want to refuse the application, and we’re very much hoping they will consider they have strong enough planning grounds to do so. Our objection aims to help them with that.

Here is what we have said:

Planning Application 19/02242/MAF: Securing and infilling of the shafts and entrances of Queensbury Tunnel

CPRE West Yorkshire objects to this planning application for the reasons set out below.

The Council’s own Local Plan team (5th August) eloquently makes the planning case against this application. The proposals would remove any future prospect of the tunnel being put to use as an active travel route, and the Council’s City-Connect 3 advocacy document makes a clear rationale for the tunnel to be opened up and restored for that purpose. The Local Plan team also identify the Core Strategy policies that would be severely undermined by the abandonment of the tunnel regarding sustainable travel and modal shift, the loss of an economic and tourism opportunity, and the heritage value of the tunnel. Furthermore, you will already be aware of the tunnel featuring in the Victorian Society’s list of heritage structures most at risk.

The Core Strategy Partial Review reflects the Council’s declaration of a climate emergency, and we warmly welcome Bradford’s leadership on this issue. The review strengthens the role of planning in responding to the climate challenge, and also the role of active travel in promoting public health and tackling inequalities. In this context, we believe that Queensbury Tunnel has great potential to be a flagship scheme within a bigger initiative to boost active travel by increasing both the connectivity and the profile of the active travel network.

We note that Calderdale Council have also expressed their objection passionately and unequivocally: “this proposal represents the kind of short-term thinking that is at odds with the excellent work that is being carried out by both Councils to facilitate sustainable travel between settlements”. It is rare that a local authority uses such powerful language in opposition to a planning application, and in our view this reflects the importance of this case, only amplified by the huge numbers of community objections.

It is clear that abandonment and restoration both require significant engineering work. The relative merits and costs of these solutions are not for CPRE to judge. However, whilst the necessary funding to restore and reopen the tunnel may not yet have been secured, the political will to do so is plainly evident, and it would be grossly short-sighted to undertake an abandonment scheme now that would preclude the restoration scheme that could become financially viable in the near future.

It is abundantly clear that the only beneficiary of the tunnel’s abandonment would be the applicant. There would be no benefit to the communities of Queensbury or the wider area within Bradford and Calderdale. By contrast, restoring and reopening the tunnel as an active travel route, whilst inevitably more expensive in terms of the initial engineering works, would have enormous benefits to many thousands of people for decades to come.

We hope that you will give this application the short shrift it deserves, and ask you to refuse it.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Wood
Consultant Planning Officer, CPRE West Yorkshire

Queensbury Tunnel
Queensbury Tunnel Cyclists ©TomWoollard
Ilkley from White Wells