Plans to close Harrogate’s Crown Post Office and replace it with a concession in WHSmiths have been slammed by residents and community figures as a ‘nightmare’.
The proposals, which will see 40 Post Offices relocated to WHSmiths nationally, were announced the same week that the stationary and book retailer revealed plans to close a number of its stores.
But Harrogate residents have been shocked to learn that the town’s main central Post Office branch is on the hitlist, and have questioned the thinking behind the plans, pointing out that there is a huge demand for the service in its current, dedicated location.
The Over 50s Forum in Harrogate discusses issues affecting older people in the district.
Forum member, Jane Malster said: “Access is going to be a real problem, even at the moment there has to be a wheelchair lift to get people between the two levels in WHSmiths.
“There is no space in there for people to get around but now they are also going to have people queuing to use post office services. The queues in the Crown Post Office we have now are huge already.”
Questions have already been raised about whether the concession will sit on the ground or first floor of WHSmiths, and what impact that could have for residents with disabilities or other accessibility issues.
Mrs Malster added: “Where the Post Office is at the moment, for quite a few older people it is so convenient. For people coming in from the villages there is disabled parking and a ramp to access the branch.
“If it moves into WHSmiths it will be a nightmare.
“It seems crazy that they have invested so much into various services in recent years and now they are going to put it into another shop.
“You would have thought that the people in these financial departments would have thought about that before.”
Concerns have also been raised for the carers of vulnerable people and the effect it will have on them.
Natalie Dobson, co-founder of Knaresborough-based, dementia care provider, Over the Rainbow Care said: “It will be their carers who will really struggle because a lot of them are full time carers for people with dementia.
“It is hard enough for them to leave the house with the people we see, so not having an accessible place will make a huge difference to them.”
The new arrangement will see the number of Post Offices operated by WHSmiths increase to over 200 nationally by 2019.
The Post Office said that details of a six-week public consultation on the plans were now being drawn up but the organisation would not comment on whether the arrangements could result in job losses in Harrogate or at any other affected branch.
A spokesperson for the Post Office said: “There are currently 10 members of staff at Harrogate Post Office. We take the utmost care supporting our staff and we are talking with them about the changes and their potential options.”
But Harrogate MP, Andrew Jones has already taken a stance against the plans and is now asking residents to help build a case to save the branch.
On Saturday the MP and his constituency team began circulating thousands of surveys which he hopes to deliver to every property in the town over the next six weeks.
Later this week Mr Jones is also planning to take the campaign online with a dedicated email to his thousands of online subscribers.
He said: “The more people make their views clear the greater the chance that we can persuade the Post Office to withdraw this proposal before they spend time and money on going to a formal consultation.
“It is only a community-based campaign that can do this and it relies on local people coming forward with their views.”
As well as applying for a Westminster Hall debate on the issue, Mr Jones said he has also been in talks with the Post Office Minister, Kelly Tolhurst MP.
He added: “I have registered my concerns, and we have agreed to keep in touch on this issue and asked her to make my opposition to this proposal clear to the senior management of the Post Office in her regular meetings with them.”
To share your views email Mr Jones at email@example.com, submit your views online via the link on his website, or call his office on 01423 529614 and request a hard copy consultation form.