John Redwood makes a submission to the consultation on post office closures

John Redwood has today made a submission to the Post Office consultation on the proposed closure of Barkham Road and London Road sub-post offices in Wokingham, in which he makes strong representations against the closures on behalf of local constituents. Both branches evidently offer an exemplary and convenient service without which many local residents would be significantly worse off. He also urges that, if the closures were to take place, there would need to be significant improvements in the service provision of the Broad Street branch to accommodate any migrating custom.

<strong>The submission and its covering letter follow.</strong>

<em>Mr. Tim Nickolls
Network Development Manager
C/O National Consultation Team

28th January 2008

Dear Mr Nickolls,

Please find enclosed my submission to the consultation on network changes for West Berkshire and Wiltshire. Two of the proposed closures, the London Road and Barkham Road offices, are in my constituency of Wokingham

I have received a significant amount of correspondence from my constituents concerning both of these closures. The enclosed submission summarises the case against closure.

Like many of my constituents I am particularly concerned about the provision of service in the Broad Street branch to which most of the customers are expected to migrate. Service capacity in this branch is already very poor, and unless improved any such proposals for closure will remain deeply unpopular.

Several constituents have complained that they feel these proposed closures are a foregone conclusion, and this consultation a futile gesture. I hope that you will demonstrate this is not the case by giving serious consideration to the concerns and suggestions outlined in this submission.

Yours sincerely,

John Redwood</em>

<strong>Submission to the Post Office Proposal for West Berkshire and Wiltshire by The Rt Hon. John Redwood MP</strong>

The concerns communicated to me by my constituents regarding the proposed closure of the London Road and Barkham Road sub-post offices in Wokingham take two forms: (1) that existing demand for the two sub-post offices is considerable; (2) that provision for migrating custom in the main Broad Street branch is wholly inadequate; and 3) closure will be most inconvenient for many of the branch post office users. My constituents are therefore against the closures.

Several constituents have raised the important point that a number of large-scale housing plans are currently being considered for the Wokingham area, some of which will undoubtedly be approved, if not by the local authority then possibly by the Planning Inspectorate, increasing the already existing demands made on the Broad Street branch.
1.1 Concerns over the proposed closure of the London Road sub-post office</strong>

A petition against this proposed closure has been sent to my office. The petition contains 653 names and has been co-ordinated independently of the sub-branch management and workers. All the signatories have put their names to the statement that they are regular users of the London Road branch, that they think it is a busy branch, and that it is an essential part of their community. Those sending the petition to my office also expressed concern over the method used by the Post Office to estimate customer numbers at the London Road branch.

Constituents have praised the efficient service they experience at the London Road branch.

Some of its elderly customers cannot drive or walk the extra distance demanded by this proposed closure, a problem compounded by the poor bus service. A couple of local businesses have also stressed that they depend on the proximity of this branch for the efficient running of their business.

<strong>1.2 Concerns over the proposed closure of the Barkham Road sub-post office</strong>

Constituents writing to me about the possible closure of the Barkham Road sub-post office have again emphasised the efficiency of the service and the convenience of on-street parking they experience at this branch, in notable contrast to the experience of Broad Street customers.

They also maintain that the number of people living in the Barkham Road area is increasing rather than decreasing, with plans for at least 80 new homes in nearby Wellington Road and Molly Millars Lane.

According to correspondence from my constituents, the bus service, on which many elderly customers would have to rely in order to use the Broad Street branch, is infrequent.
2.1 Concerns over inadequate service provision in the Broad Street branch</strong>

Those writing to me on the matter of these post office closures have been unanimous in their concern for the service provided by the main Broad Street branch, to which custom from the two sub-post offices is expected to migrate.

The queues in this branch are notoriously long, often extending into the street – an obvious problem for elderly customers, especially in inclement weather. For disabled customers the space limitations of the branch also present difficulties. Ten to fifteen minutes is not an uncommon time for customers to wait in the branch. Anecdotal evidence suggests that customers have been known to wait over an hour to be served, seemingly because only two positions were open.

Parking is also a considerable problem for the customers of the Broad Street branch, something which will clearly become a more common grievance if former customers of the sub-post offices are now driving to the main branch. The proposed redevelopment of the adjacent shopping area would also likely compound the problem of parking and traffic congestion. There is only one disabled parking bay by the branch and two bays adjacent to a nearby bank branch with a 30 minute limit. Otherwise the nearest parking is chargeable and 250 yards away.

<strong>2.2 Suggestions for improving the Broad Street branch </strong>

I urge that detailed proposals for upgrading and increasing the capacity of the Broad Street branch are budgeted for following this consultation. Such proposals should take into consideration the expected migration of customers if you intend to close either or both branches, as well as any pending planning proposals for the area which might further increase service demand.

I suggest that increased capacity on the scale demanded might best be achieved by rationalising the Broad Street site’s use. Sorting activity could be moved from the current location at the back of the site to better premises. This would release cash for much-needed expansion and modernisation of the existing customer facilities from the sale of the development.

Staffing the positions at peak times is also essential to improving this facility. Providing a means of achieving this should be considered in the consultation’s conclusions. The Broad Street front building should be retained and additional counters incorporated. There is room to do this on the left of the building.