Fears of crime allayed as old railway tunnel to be opened

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CYCLISTS have welcomed plans to open a disused railway tunnel to improve links between Wakefield and Dewsbury - despite misgivings by some that it will attract criminals and anti-social behaviour.

The national cycling charity Sustrans is working with Kirklees Council and other partners to improve cycling and walking routes across West Yorkshire.

In Dewsbury, the latest phase of a cycling route will come before councillors today.

The proposal is for the creation of a new cycle and pedestrian route between Preston Street, Earlsheaton, to the border of the Wakefield district.

It will mean the opening of the Earlsheaton tunnel and will cost an estimated £500,000 to bring to fruition.

The route, which is along the former railway line, is being supported by council planners, who are recommending the plans be supported by councillors.

The proposal will involve works to Preston Street, which is a steeply sloping road, to make it the gradient more acceptable to future users.

Although the plans are well supported, local residents have expressed concerns about the proposed opening of the boarded-up tunnel, which is around 170 metres long.

Security measures are being proposed to ensure the safety of cyclists and walkers, including access barriers, lighting and the possible use of CCTV.

The tunnel itself is in need of repair and refurbishment but, once complete, will include lights fixed at regular intervals along its length.

The lighting will be timed to be switched off before sunset and will not come until sunrise.

Money has been set aside for CCTV but there will be a monitoring period before a decision is taken to install it.

Concerns about crime have been raised by police and residents.

West Yorkshire Police’s architectural liaison officer has told Kirklees Council that the tunnel section of the cycleway presents “out of the ordinary if not exceptional circumstances” for those who wish that it is as free from crime as possible.

Police believe that CCTV is necessary from the outset because of the “forbidding nature of a disused tunnel” and the fact that it is not entirely straight, which means that those entering the tunnel would not be sure if anyone was loitering inside.

The history of anti-social behaviour around the western entrance to the tunnel has added to police concerns.

Residents have expressed similar fears. Some have suggested the need for gates and for “guardians” to ensure safety for users.

A planning committee report, to be discussed today, concludes that the plans should be given the go-ahead, whilst accepting the concerns about the route attracting crime.

“In summary whilst there was some concern at potential anti-social behaviour in relation to the tunnel, the majority welcomed the proposal and supported its creation, believing it would be well used.”

Yesterday David Hall, of Sustrans in Yorkshire, said: “Opening the Earlsheaton Tunnel is another great development for walking and cycling in West Yorkshire.

“It is part of a bigger project led by Sustrans, Kirklees Council and members of the local community to create safer and more attractive routes for people travelling on foot or bike. “When the project is completed later this year there will be a traffic-free link between Dewsbury and Ossett, which means people will be able to walk or cycle between the two, avoiding the very busy roads and steepest hills.

“It is always exciting to be reopening disused railway lines like this.

“They are such an important part of the local heritage and make wonderful traffic-free walking and cycling routes.”