Following the agreement of Council to formally lend its backing to the opening of the Rhondda Tunnel between Blaencwm and Blaengwynfi, Council Leader Andrew Morgan met with representatives of the Rhondda Tunnel Society to outline how the Council could support making this ambitious project a reality.
The Rhondda Tunnel Society aims to turn the former railway tunnel into a pubic asset that would support tourism and the wider economy in both the Rhondda and neighbouring Afan valleys.
If re-opened to support Active Travel, the Rhondda Tunnel would provide the longest cycle tunnel in Europe and the second longest in the world, ensuring the potential for the site to become a major visitor attraction, not just for Rhondda Cynon Taf, but the whole of Wales.
Commenting following the meeting between the Rhondda Tunnel Society and the Council, Council Leader, County Borough Councillor Andrew Morgan said:
“The Rhondda Tunnel project is a scheme which carries huge public support and affection, thanks in the main to the enthusiasm and drive that the many volunteers involved place behind the plans.
“Tourism is a major aspect of the Welsh Government’s economic strategy for Wales, and the Rhondda Tunnel has huge potential to create a world class visitor attraction, and this is why I think that the proposal deserves the backing of the Council to ensure that we do all we can to deliver the potential economic benefits it could bring to Rhondda Cynon Taf.
“As Europe’s longest walking or cycling tunnel, this would certainly be the case, providing opportunities for everyone to not only engage in Active Travel between the Rhondda and Afan Valley, but equally as important, to enjoy this impressive example of Victorian engineering, which was created from our communities’ former industrial past.
“The Rhondda Tunnel Society has made significant progress under its own steam in advancing their ambitions and they are able to present a clear vision of what needs to happen next in order to turn this unique project into a viable and sustainable tourism venue.
“I recently visited the Afan valley side of the tunnel, along with the Deputy Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, who also recognises the huge potential the project offers.
“It was great to hear from Rhondda Tunnel Society Members about how this tunnel, which is 128 years old, and was closed in 1968 and blocked in 1979, has remained structurally sound to the same standards as it was when it connected the Rhondda to docks in Swansea.
“Today, we discussed how the Council could work alongside the Tunnel Society directly, to move these ambitions to the next level by better understanding the business plan necessary to support the project and what technical engineering challenges might lie ahead in order to future proof this asset.
“Most importantly, we discussed how the Council could support securing the necessary funding for the tunnel and backing from the Welsh Government for the scheme to become a reality in the near future.
“I am personally committed to making this happen, and so too is the wider Council, following the support offered for the Notice of Motion tabled at the Full Council meeting last week.
“A project like this is incredibly unique, but we also have an opportunity alongside the Rhondda Tunnel to consider plans to re-open the former Abernant Tunnel between Aberdare and Merthyr, which could also deliver major economic benefits.
“If these two projects could be delivered side-by-side, Rhondda Cynon Taf would offer one of the most attractive and impressive Active Travel destinations in Europe, and probably a world first on this basis alone.
“Re-opening both of these Tunnels would allow Rhondda Cynon Taf to link up the already established Active Travel offer in the Afan Valley with Merthyr, offering a comprehensive active leisure and tourism network across the Valleys region.
“We have a real opportunity here, to deliver a game-changing project, and the Council will do all it can to support the progression of the next steps – both practically and in terms of securing wider support from Welsh Government, and we will continue to work with both neighbouring Councils – namely Neath Port Talbot and Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Councils.”
Full Council last week supported a Notice of Motion to support the reopening of both the Rhondda and Abernant tunnel projects.
Commenting on the meeting, Steve Mackey, Chair of the Rhondda Tunnel Society, said:
“We are thrilled by this offer of support from both Rhondda Cynon Taf and Neath Port Talbot Councils, and are delighted that Rhondda Cynon Taf Council is taking the initiative to move the project forward.
“The Society formed out of the interest aroused when the long-lost tunnel headstone was found in 2014; where it was later repaired and unveiled at Treherbert Station. Now, it looks as if this is only a temporary resting place before the headstone returns to its proper home above the entrance to Europe’s longest walking/cycling tunnel, and the tunnel can earn its keep once again.
“The Rhondda Tunnel Society itself has 760 members from around the world and thousands more followers on Facebook/Twitter. It has a team of retired civil and mining engineers who have the technical expertise to guide the project, collaborating with the residents of the Afan and Rhondda Valleys who want to provide better opportunities for future generations.
“We have done research on other abandoned railway tunnels that have found a new life as cycle/walking routes and found that they are hugely popular, so we should be planning for lots of visitors.
“South Wales has the highest density of traffic-free cycle routes anywhere in Britain, and we want to see the Rhondda Tunnel be the centre of a network of rides and walks, many circular, that will bring visitors from all over Britain and the wider world.
“This will help spread the economic benefits more widely in Wales. As elsewhere, the tunnel can also play host to big sports events.
“We do urge Rhondda Cynon Taf Council to develop the wider infrastructure that will be required, in particular a cycle route up to the tunnel from Porth, traffic-free as much as possible and the rest on back streets; this will again spread the benefits of Active Travel down the Valley.
“We are hugely grateful to the Pen Y Cymoedd Wind Farm Community Fund which has provided the Society with the funds to carry out a detailed examination of the tunnel. Indications from this examination are that whilst the tunnel needs repairs, most of it is in remarkable condition, and this is enabling Rhondda Cynon Taf Council to take the bold initiative to bring its ownership, restoration and benefits to the people of Wales.”