Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps has hit back at claims from Labour candidate Andrew Lewin that plans to close railway ticket offices were put in place by him.

Mr Shapps served as transport secretary from July 2019 to September 2022, with Mr Lewin stating in an open letter that the closure proposals were "first reported when Grant Shapps was transport secretary".

He also claimed Mr Shapps had not spoken out on the proposals because they were "his own plans".

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Andrew Lewin.Andrew Lewin. (Image: Andrew Lewin)

"The Conservative plan to close ticket offices was first reported when Grant Shapps was transport secretary," he said.

"Now we’ve seen the full proposal to close ticket offices at all five stations in Welwyn Hatfield.

"Closing our ticket offices will be disruptive for many people, but will have an especially damaging impact on those with disabilities.

"We face the real prospect of people who are partially sighted or blind being forced off the train network because they simply have no way to purchase a ticket. It is completely wrong.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Andrew Lewin's full letter to Grant Shapps.Andrew Lewin's full letter to Grant Shapps. (Image: Andrew Lewin)

"As the Labour candidate, I am clear on my position. I oppose the closures and stand with local people who have responded to the public consultation and asked for our ticket offices to be kept open.

"I want to see ticket offices maintained at Brookmans Park, Hatfield, Welham Green, Welwyn Garden City and Welwyn North.

"Grant Shapps has been silent on the local implications of these planned closures and it’s no surprise.

"It seems pretty clear that these are his own plans from his days as Transport Secretary. Plans that will harm people across our community."

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Mr Shapps responded to Mr Lewin in an open letter, reaffirming he was "firmly on the side of Welwyn Hatfield passengers".

"Having personally taken the train to and from Welwyn Hatfield for many years, I strongly believe that we deserve a truly great train service," he wrote.

"This does, however, require the service to modernise with the times. I am aware that a lot of misinformation has been circulated about the current train operator consultation and I thought it might therefore be helpful to include facts about the way that people now buy their train tickets.

"Whereas in the 1990s virtually all train tickets were sold via ticket offices, that figure is now just one in 10 tickets.

"Nowadays, the vast majority of people either buy their tickets online or - in the case of Welwyn Hatfield where I personally campaigned and successfully brought contactless payments all the way to Welwyn Garden City - people simply touch in-and-out using their debit/credit card or by phone.

"Despite these very dramatic changes, we still have the same number of ticket offices as 30 years ago.

"You rightly raised concern about people with disabilities having good access to our rail network. I share this passion.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Grant Shapps' response to Andrew Lewin.Grant Shapps' response to Andrew Lewin. (Image: Grant Shapps)

"Again, it has been found that by having train staff up front - rather than tucked away - they are able to assist all rail users to make their journey more easily; including with the purchase of a ticket.

"Given that, for the most part this involves touching in and out with a card or phone against the contactless unit, it is clear that staff stationed at the gate - either to assist with access or using a machine to purchase a ticket - can be of far greater assistance than if they are permanently stuck behind solid glass some distance away.

"Whilst I appreciate that you consider it your role to support the Unions with their campaign, I am firmly on the side of Welwyn Hatfield passengers."

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Grant Shapps.Grant Shapps. (Image: PA Images/PA Wire)

Mr Shapps was also keen to point out how similar changes to the London Underground have proved succesful, adding: "We have been here before because a number of years ago, the London Underground went through exactly the same process.

"You might therefore be interested to know that passenger satisfaction rose considerably after staff, who had previously been tucked away in ticket offices, were brought out onto the concourse to actively assist passengers.

"This meant that the average passenger went from seeing no staff whatsoever to typically experiencing contact with uniformed assistance on almost every journey."