It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Bailey, and I congratulate Robert Courts on securing this debate and on his passionate and articulate opening remarks. As the MP for Halifax, right in the heart of Yorkshire, I am truly blessed because our cycling routes and footpaths have so much to showcase. They featured in the Tour de France, and the now annual Tour de Yorkshire—my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis has been a passionate advocate for that.
Today I wish to advocate one infrastructure scheme—the Queensbury tunnel. The campaign proposes to convert a disused railway tunnel that was constructed in 1878 but closed in the 1950s into a cycle route to connect Bradford with Calderdale. The tunnel is a magnificent feat of Victorian engineering. It is about one and a half miles long, and at the time it was the longest tunnel on the Great Northern railway. We are the masters of up-cycling our heritage in Yorkshire, and restoring and repurposing that historic tunnel for the modern world as part of a regional cycle route would offer a positive environmental impact, as well as an economic one, as there would be yet another Yorkshire gem for cyclists, and visitors more broadly, to come and see.
Despite all that promise, however, the tunnel is currently slated for abandonment by its custodian, Highways England’s historical railways estate. The campaign therefore has a sense of urgency. We could soon find that the tunnel is lost for ever, and that that incredible example of Victorian engineering is scheduled to be filled in with concrete. To restore the route would cost around £16 million. That sounds like a lot, but the tragedy of the abandonment proposal is that such work is likely to cost in the region of £5 million pounds—money that would be funded by the taxpayer but provide no local benefit at all. Latest extensive research suggests that to invest in the tunnel’s restoration would return £2.31 for every £1 invested.
An alternative future for the tunnel would be transformational. Restoring the tunnel with a cycle path would place it at the centre of a cycle network that connects Halifax to Bradford and Keighley, and would boost sustainable travel. It would add another landmark structure to the Great Northern railway trail, making it one of the most spectacular foot and cycle paths anywhere in the country. It would further enhance our area’s cycling credentials, becoming both the longest continuous incline in England, and the longest re-used railway tunnel. I encourage the Minister to come and visit that tunnel if at all possible. I have no doubt that if he spends five minutes with the wonderful campaigners, Norah McWillams and Graeme Bickerdike, whose passion for the tunnel is infectious, he will be left with little option but to consider investing in it and in its future at the heart of Yorkshire’s cycling heritage.