CAMPAIGNERS fighting to keep the footbridge through Sheffield railway station open to non-passengers will take their battle to the very top at a meeting to be held at the end of this month.
Protest group Residents Against Station Closure, council representatives and local MPs will meet with Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond and Transport Minister Norman Baker at the Department of Transport in London on Wednesday, February 29.
Keith Hayman from Residents Against Station Closure, said: “Over four years, Residents Against Station Closure has received widespread support from individuals, organisations, the media and all local political parties in its campaign to keep our station bridge fully open to the public.
“We remain determined to ensure that open access is maintained through Sheffield station.
“We are pleased to have an opportunity for a face-to-face discussion with ministers to resolve this long-running dispute.”
The battle over the future of the station footbridge began when East Midlands Trains announced that it wanted to install ticket barriers at the railway station, in order to tackle fare dodgers.
The barriers, however, would have prevented people walking through the railway station to access the Supertram stop, communities at Norfolk Park and Park Hill and, now, the new South Street park and amphitheatre.
During a debate in Parliament in December last year, Mr Baker said that although he “fully recognised” concern about proposed ticket barriers blocking access to the footbridge, the loss of revenue was an “important” issue.
Speaking during a Commons debate, he said: “The costs of ticketless travel relating to Sheffield station is estimated at between three and 18 per cent. The sum of £2.3m a year was given to me by officials and was based on the minimum figure. If it were 18 per cent, the amount would be £13.8m a year.
“We simply cannot allow money to continue to haemorrhage from Sheffield in this way and that a solution needs to be found that captures the lost revenue as a matter of urgency.
“This is money that should be going to the railway to help improve services and, at the moment, it is being lost.
“It is also unfair that many people are paying for their tickets while others are able to travel apparently free of charge.”
Station owner East Midlands Trains has also claimed that its franchise agreement with the Government to run rail services on the Sheffield to St Pancras route obliges them to install barriers to stop fare dodgers.
In Sheffield, however, MPs and councillors from both sides of the Labour and Liberal Democrat political divide have opposed the installation of barriers.
In 2009, East Midlands Trains had to apply for listed building consent in order to install the ticket barriers at the Grade Two-listed railway station.
That application was turned down by members of Sheffield Council’s planning board, who described the scheme as “appalling”.
Coun Brian Holmes said he was “disgusted” by the application, while Coun Alan Law criticised the company for what he called a “pretty appalling consultation process”.
Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central, said yesterday: “In my debate in Parliament on the station bridge the rail minister agreed to my demand for a meeting.
“I’m pleased we’ve now secured a date for a round table meeting and that both the transport secretary and rail minister will be attending.
“Before Christmas the rail minister accepted the key point that there must be pedestrian access through the station.
“This was a significant step forward and I want ministers to work with me, Residents Against Station Closure and the city council to find a solution to this long-running issue that maintains open access through our station.”