Minister in £3m offer to bridge bitter divide over station access

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PROTESTERS who mounted a sustained campaign against plans to install ticket barriers at Sheffield’s railway station won a £3m promise from the Government yesterday which could finally end the dispute.

East Midlands Trains, a private firm which runs the station, unveiled a scheme to install automated barriers several years ago, in what it said was an attempt to stop fare dodgers boarding trains.

The barriers would only open to those holding valid tickets, but would also block access to a footbridge used as a cut through between the city centre and the Park Hill area beyond the tracks.

Campaigners said closing the bridge to those without tickets would cause “massive inconvenience” for thousands of people every day, and set about fighting the barrier scheme in any way possible.

The group Residents Against Station Closure (RASC) have since been supported by leading councillors and MPs and repeated attempts to install the “revenue protection system” have failed.

Members of Sheffield Council’s planning committee even refused planning permission for the barriers under listed building legislation, but yesterday’s intervention may pave the way for a solution.

In a meeting with Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield and leading councillors and protesters, Transport Minister Justine Greening agreed to fund a new footbridge which would be separate to the station.

Ms Greening said the Department for Transport was prepared to make £3m available to build the bridge, which would then allow East Midlands Trains to install barriers to exclude those without tickets.

Speaking after the meeting she said: “I have offered the city £3m to build a new bridge so that we can maintain and boost crucial pedestrian access across the railway tracks while tackling fare-dodging which simply pushes up rail ticket prices for law-abiding passengers and commuters.

“While I will continue to examine options that avoid ticket gates at the existing footbridge, I believe a new bridge is a great way of getting this issue resolved once and for all and I hope that city MPs and the council will agree to work with us on solving this long-running problem.”

Ms Greening said the money had been found from an “underspend” elsewhere and set the city a deadline of two weeks to decide whether to accept it

Mr Blomfield welcomed the offer but said he, the council and campaigners sill wanted to see “open access” and “alternatives” to barriers.

He said if the offer of cash was accepted, it was hoped to examine the new bridge option, alongside widening the existing bridge, or bringing a goods bridge into use for non-ticketholders.

Mr Blomfield added; ““This is a very positive step forward to resolving this long-running issue. It’s been a long four-year campaign, but we’re hopefully finally close to achieving a solution.

“We all welcome the Secretary of State’s recognition that we must maintain open pedestrian access through the station and her commitment to rigorously and swiftly explore alternative options to barriers.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, MP for Sheffield Hallam, also welcomed the idea and said: “I have been calling for years for a solution to this while Labour sat on its hands. This is the best solution to a complex problem that I was determined to sort out.

“The Coalition Government is now offering £3m to Sheffield Council. I hope Labour doesn’t turn its nose up at this offer and that we can finally end the uncertainty and get this bridge built.”

Yesterday Keith Hayman RASC chairman said; “We welcome the willingness to find a mutually acceptable solution to this long standing problem. The campaign remains determined to maintain open access and we look forward to the opportunity of working with Department for Transport officials to achieve this.”