South East Wales

Rhondda Tunnel Society: 'End funding log-jam before Brexit'

Inside the tunnel Image copyright Rhondda Tunnel Society

A project to reopen an historic tunnel could miss out on funding unless the Welsh Government "ends the log-jam" before Brexit, its leader has claimed.

Steve Mackey, chairman of the Rhondda Tunnel Society, said they could not get any major funding until ownership is transferred to Wales.

But a Welsh Government spokeswoman said it was their understanding ownership was not required to take next steps.

She said the economy secretary would seek clarification.

Meanwhile the society has been invited to give a presentation to the European Commission to bid for funding.

The Rhondda Tunnel Society wants the Blaencwm tunnel, in Rhondda Cynon Taff, to Blaengwynfi, in Neath Port Talbot, to be re-opened for use by cyclists and walkers.

Image caption The tunnel was filled in after cuts to the UK rail network in the 1960s

The tunnel is currently owned by Highways England, and the Welsh Government was criticised in February for not requesting its transfer.

Mr Mackey said the project had been "going round in circles" because £300,000 was needed for a structural survey to show it is a viable project before the Welsh Government would ask for ownership.

Mr Mackey said: "I don't blame the Welsh Government for looking into this deeply - they're not going to spend money opening it only to find out it's not workable - but I'm sure they could do it quicker.

"I believe Brexit could affect this project. Even if the Welsh Government just gave us a letter of intent [of ownership], we could move forward."

He said a meeting with Economy Secretary Ken Skates had been arranged for 10 January regarding the issue.

Image copyright Rhondda Tunnel Society

But a Welsh Government spokeswoman said: "We have been supportive of the Rhondda Tunnel Society's efforts to re-open the tunnel and in May we arranged a meeting between the society, Highways England and Welsh Government to discuss this project.

"During that meeting, Highways England advised the society on next steps and were very positive about how they could support the society's work to gain a better understanding of the tunnel's condition.

"We are surprised by these comments as our understanding following that meeting was that the transfer of ownership of the tunnel to Welsh Government was not required to undertake next steps.

"The economy secretary has asked officials to speak to Highways England to clarify the position and will be writing to and meeting with the society following that."

Wales MEP Jill Evans, who is setting up the Brussels visit for the society, said she wanted them to meet Michael Cramer, a keen cyclist who is chairman of the transport committee, and those in the European Commission who deal with transport funding, to examine possible applications.

"The ownership of the tunnel is another aspect we would have to discuss, but obviously time is an issue," she said.

"The Rhondda Tunnel Society have done so much work already and I hope that the EU can help to move things forward. It's certainly worth exploring all possibilities.

"As a member of the transport and tourism committee in the European Parliament I know of the increasing interest in cycling holidays and I believe we have something unique to offer."

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