CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save the historic Queensbury Tunnel have slammed Highways England for spending almost £5,000 of public every week on a CCTV operation.
The Victorian structure, which runs for 1.4 miles beneath the village has been at the centre of a longstanding battle over its future.
Campaigners, led by the Queensbury Tunnel Society (QTS), believe it should be restored for public use as part of a greenway connecting Bradford and Halifax.
Highways England, which manages the tunnel for the Department for Transport is seeking to fill parts of it in over safety concerns.
It has previously said unless major work is carried out on the tunnel, the "level of safety risk to the community increases" and action needs to be taken. It has also said the Queensbury Tunnel "represents the highest risk to public safety" of the 3,200 former railway structures it looks after.
QTS said: "Contractor AMCO-Giffen spent much of last year undertaking preparatory works inside the tunnel but withdrew most of its equipment in early October after six days of persistent heavy rain caused floodwater to reach the tunnel’s midpoint.
"Since then, works have been suspended. But Highways England is continuing to fund the operation of a generator, lighting and CCTV camera system to record anyone attempting to enter the tunnel.
"Locals have reported clouds of blue smoke coming from the generator’s exhaust and the smell of burning fuel in the air.
"The entrance is protected by three-metre high steel gates, anti-vandal grease and razor wire. Despite this, two urban explorers were able to get into the tunnel during a two-week period last September when it was left unlocked and unattended for between half-an-hour and 90 minutes most evenings.
"According to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the weekly cost of the CCTV operation is £4,704, meaning that the bill since the site was stood down is approaching £100,000."
Norah McWilliam, leader of the Queensbury Tunnel Society, said “It’s become very clear that Highways England couldn’t care less about how much public money it wastes.
“Last year, about £1.2 million was squandered on pumping floodwater out of the tunnel, but today its level is exactly the same as when they started. Now they’re frittering away tens of thousands of pounds monitoring people supposedly trying to get into a tunnel which has better security than many prisons. If they kept the gates locked, that would be sufficient.
“At what point will Highways England be called to account for this misuse of taxpayers’ money and the unnecessary air pollution they’re causing?”
A spokesperson for Highways England said: “Safety is our top priority. We have installed cameras for safety reasons and to prevent trespass at the site.”
QTS says the planning application for the tunnel's partial infilling has had to be re-advertised after changes were made to the proposed scheme following works last October carried out under emergency powers.
So far, more than 6,300 people have lodged objections to the plans.
It’s now likely that Bradford Council won’t determine the application until May, by which time a decision is expected on a £23 million funding bid for the Bradford-Halifax Greenway - incorporating Queensbury Tunnel - which the West Yorkshire Combined Authority submitted to the government’s Transforming Cities Fund in November