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Fighting closure of historic post office

A piece of my mind
Julie Wassmer, TV writer, author and local campaigner

A FEW weeks ago I wrote in this column about the value of whistleblowers. Last Tuesday (March 31) the whistle was blown on Post Office Ltd when a statement was leaked to me announcing the “temporary closure” of Whitstable’s Crown Post Office from April 29. Whitstable’s post office in Gladstone Road is one of 70 Crown Post Offices across the UK which Post Office Ltd has been trying to franchise since early 2013. Putting a spin on what is essentially a “closure” programme by dubbing it a modernisation to “suit customer needs”, the company still admits it is a cost-cutting measure. Crown Post Offices are located in central areas of towns and staffed by trained personnel. They are also under secure government control and must remain so where a suitable franchise has not been found.

Last year, Post Office Ltd entered into confidential negotiations with Invicta Budgens and duly awarded the franchise, only for the store to cease trading during the consultation period. This brought into question whether due diligence had been exercised over the selection because had this business failure occurred after the franchise had been taken up, Whitstable would not have had a Post Office service since that time. The redevelopment of the Gladstone Road site appears to have presented a fresh opportunity for the closure of our Crown Post Office service and one which I presume is dubbed “temporary” because, under the Post Office’s own Code of Conduct, closure of a post office requires a 13-week consultation period — which the company has not given to our town.

Access

Also, the alternative branches we are advised to use do not adhere to the Access Criteria laid down by the Government which require “95 per cent of the total urban population across the UK to be within one mile of their nearest post office outlet.” Planning consent for the redevelopment of the Gladstone Road building has actually been in place since 2010 with permission approved by Canterbury City Council for a Temporary Post Office to continue throughout the redevelopment in the Gladstone Road car park and for a Crown Post Office to remain at the site after redevelopment. Some weeks ago, after Post Office Ltd contacted our Working Group for the Save Whitstable Crown Post Office Campaign, we duly sent the company these detailed plans and maps from the council’s planning permission. Our city council has also cooperated to allow the siting of portacabins on one of two possible locations so there is therefore no reason for any cessation of post office services in our town other than the continuing ambitions of Post Office Ltd to deprive us of our valued and historic Crown Post Office.

Herne Bay Times, April 8th 2015

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