A SOLUTION to the Sheffield railway station footbridge saga was in sight this week as the Government offered £3m for a new bridge to guarantee public access.
Community representatives and politicians who have been battling for more than four years in opposition for ticket barriers that would close a pedestrian route through the station welcomed the breakthrough, which followed talks yesterday (Wednesday) with Transport Secretary Justine Greening.
While some campaigners fell short of declaring outright victory, they said the commitment was a significant step forward.
Ms Greening offered £3m for a new footbridge to guarantee a pedestrian route between the city centre and Park Hill and Norfolk Park, separate from train passengers, which would allow East Midland Trains to install gates at the existing footbridge to prevent fare dodging.
She also made clear it was prepared to look at other options as part of a six month study. They include widening the existing pedestrian footbridge and upgrading the old goods bridge.
The minister also promised that ticket gates would not be installed at the existing footbridge until the new bridge, if agreed, was up and running.
But she is asking for a response from Sheffield on the offer of £3m within a fortnight - or the money will go to projects in other parts of the country. After meeting local MPs, councillors and representatives of the protest group Residents Against Station Closure, 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.”
Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield said: “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.”
“These options include holding more ticket spot checks, ticket inspectors and ticket machines and putting on longer trains.”
The campaign to retain access to all pedestrians in response to East Midlands Trains’ plans for the ticket barriers received all-party backing, and Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also hailed a breakthrough yesterday.
“I have been calling for years for a solution to this while Labour sat on its hands,” he said. “This is the best solution to a complex problem that I was determined to sort out.”
The campaign has seen high profile demonstrations at the station in response to the occasional barring of non-passengers. Residents Against Station Closure have been heavily involved.
Its chair, Keith Hayman, welcomed 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.”
The council said it was willing to consider the offer of funding for a bridge, but it needed to be done alongside the wider regeneration plans for the city, “as it must not detract from other potential investment that is pending for Sheffield, and the principle of maintaining appropriate public access”.