PLANNED work at a disused tunnel that campaigners want to see transformed into a cycling route has been defended by the Government.

The Department for Transport was responding to accusations by an MP that it is “trying to kill off the project by stealth”.

A growing campaign is pressing for the historic Queensbury Tunnel structure to be turned into a cycleway, which would form part of a route from Keighley, through Bradford and to Halifax.

But Highways England’s Historical Railways Estate – which maintains the structure on behalf of the Department for Transport – says it is unsafe, and proposes sealing both entrances and backfilling its ventilation shafts.

Judith Cummins, Labour MP for Bradford South, has made an urgent plea to the Minister for Transport to intervene and stop the work being carried out.

She claims the plans to partially infill the tunnel would result in most of the structure below the village collapsing – and would wreck plans to create the cycleway.

Mrs Cummins said: “I am outraged that Highways England is moving prematurely to seal the tunnel’s fate by partially infilling it before its potential long-term value can be properly assessed.

“I have written to Minister for Transport, Jesse Norman MP, urging him to suspend the planned works to allow more time for proposals to be developed and funding secured.

“A transformed Queensbury Tunnel would be an asset for the whole district bringing health, environmental and economic benefits. An attempt to close off that possibility by stealth must not be allowed to succeed.”

However, the Department for Transport says the first phase of safety works will not affect the future of the tunnel, and it will liaise with Bradford Council when the work is completed should it wish to pursue plans for bicycle and pedestrian access.

A spokesman added: “Highways England proposed essential safety work on Queensbury Tunnel following an annual inspection.

“This will not affect any future transfer of the tunnel and we will advise the local authority when the work is completed.”