THE Transport Secretary has enraged Sheffield residents by reopening the debate into controversial plans for ticket barriers at Sheffield rail station.
Conservative Philip Hammond has written to Deputy PM Nick Clegg saying he wants the barriers to be installed - despite a long and bitter campaign against the idea.
Residents from Park Hill and Norfolk Park have long opposed proposals to prevent non-ticket holders being able to use the footbridge - because they also walk across it as a safe, disabled-friendly route into the city centre.
They held a rally at the weekend, marching through the station bearing placards and banners.
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has sent a letter to Sheffield Hallam MP Mr Clegg, whose old Lib Dem administration at Sheffield Council opposed barriers preventing residents accessing the station bridge.
Mr Hammond said that it was his view that barriers are the ‘only way’ to reduce fare dodging by passengers using Sheffield Station.
Geraldine Roberts, vice chairman of Residents Against Station Closure, the group formed to fight the barrier plans, said: “In that letter Philip Hammond said it was his view that the only way to protect the station in his opinion was via automatic ticket barriers and he personally was determined to see them installed.
“We have a perfectly good bridge which was built with public money which is well used. We certainly don’t intend to lose that unless and until there was a serious viable alternative.”
Graham Wroe, Green Party activist and fellow member of the residents’ campaign group, said: “We want the council to press ahead and work for the bridge to be made a public right of way, which would prevent it being blocked by barriers.”
Sheffield politicians have pledged to support the protesters.
Paul Blomfield, Sheffield Central Labour MP, said: “I’m extremely concerned that the barrier plan may be back on and will be raising the issue once Parliament resumes.”
Sheffield Council Lib Dem opposition leader, Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, added: “The Department for Transport’s position has always been that it would prefer to see the barriers installed, which was also the case under the previous Labour Government.
“Our position is that we are against the barriers regardless of which Government is in power. We will continue to support the local residents.”
The bridge was funded with public money during a multi-million pound refurbishment of the station over the last decade.
Plans for barriers, which station operator East Midlands Trains said were a requirement of its contract with the Department for Transport and have been installed elsewhere on its line to London, were shelved last year by the former Labour Government due to their unpopularity.
Then Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said barriers would only be installed if a second bridge was built to allow non-rail passengers to cross the station. A second bridge already exists to the south of the station but it is run-down, graffiti-covered and has steep steps at one end. Residents do not feel safe using it.
Mr Hammond’s Lib Dem junior Transport Minister, Norman Baker, claimed fare dodging by passengers at Sheffield cost train operators £2m annually.
He said: “Clearly this is unacceptable. The department is keen to resolve this issue in a pragmatic way that also addresses the concerns of local residents.”