CAMPAIGNERS pressing for a disused railway tunnel to be reopened as a cycle route have welcomed the intervention of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

The minister says he has blocked the filling-in of the historic 1.4-mile-long structure and is keen to find a new use for it – either for cycling or even part of a light rail network.

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

Norah McWilliam, for the society, said she was “delighted” at the minister’s announcement.

And in the wake of his ruling, she is calling on Highways England to withdraw a planning application to fill in the tunnel which it submitted last May.

“Highways England has made such a mess of the whole business,” she added.

“The sensible thing would be for it to withdraw the application and look at a possible plan for the future of the tunnel.”

Mrs McWilliam said the society had argued for over five years that the structure had enormous social and economic potential as the centrepiece of a greenway for active travel.

“The tunnel is an asset that should be restored for public benefit,” she said.

“As a first step to confirming the position he is now taking, we call on the minister to instruct Highways England to immediately withdraw its planning application to seal the tunnel. In the face of enormous public opposition and with serious technical shortcomings, it makes no sense for the application to be progressed.

“The idea of a light railway or tram is something we have already heard whispers of; it’s not an altogether impossible notion, but it puts the tunnel restoration on a different footing. The tunnel emerges at both ends onto private land and, whilst both landowners are fully supportive of accommodating a greenway, some form of rail/tram route calls for serious consideration on their part.

“Furthermore, the topography would make a rail track pretty challenging. A track would also mean maintaining the full width of the tunnel and therefore the cost of restoration and the added infrastructure of the extended route would be a great deal more expensive than a greenway dedicated to cycling and walking. We imagine that a fixed track scheme would take several years to achieve, whereas a greenway could be achieved within a couple of years.

“The greenway would provide a wonderful rural corridor, offering fresh air and exercise for families and a healthy alternative route to work, schools and colleges.”

A spokesman for Highways England said: “We understand the strength of feeling around the tunnel. We continue discussions with the Department of Transport on future plans.”