Councillors voice fears over post office closures
IN 1999, Huntingdonshire had 49 Post Offices. In 2007, it has 38. But how many of those will be included in the 2,500 earmarked for closure in the next two years, district councillors wonder. In a bid to pre-empt the Post Office targeting rural Huntingdon
IN 1999, Huntingdonshire had 49 Post Offices. In 2007, it has 38. But how many of those will be included in the 2,500 earmarked for closure in the next two years, district councillors wonder.
In a bid to pre-empt the Post Office targeting rural Huntingdonshire again in the latest round of cuts, HDC is urging it to extend the range of transactions in local offices to help improve their financial viability.
It also wants to ensure that local needs, such as transport and accessibility, are taken fully into account when decisions are taken about the future of loss-making offices.
Councillors also want extra "outreach services", such as postal facilities in village halls, pubs and mobile post offices, beyond the 500 currently planned, decisions to be taken locally, and the consultation period for proposed closures extended from six weeks to 12.
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HDC's leader, Councillor Ian Bates said: "There's already a substantial shortfall in rural post offices. We have just 38 in more than 80 parishes in the district, and a considerable number have already been closed.
"We believe there could be 200-250 closures across the east of England, including a number under threat in this area."
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Consultation will be based on Parliamentary boundaries, showing areas where there are likely to be closures, he said.
Cllr Kevin Rey-nolds acknowledged that HDC's influence on national PO policy was minimal, and the criteria on which decisions about closure would be based had not been revealed.
His colleague, Cllr Barbara Boddington, reminded members of the district's connection with Britain's postal services, which had been first established by King Charles I.
The General Post Office, she added, had been established in 1657 by former Huntingdon Grammar Schoolboy Oliver Cromwell's Parliament, which had beheaded its founder eight years earlier.
Cllr Peter Mitchell, who chairs the council's development control panel, feared closures could impact directly on planning policy.
"We are charged with ensuring that development happens only in sustainable places. If you lose post offices, it will make these places far less likely to be sustainable," he told members.
Cllr Mike Baker had additional fears that the loss of post office business could make the difference between profit and loss for village shops, which could close, causing huge additional burdens on elderly people and others without cars.
Cllr Jonathan Gray reminded councillors that HDC had played its part in sustaining village post offices by using them as outposts of the council - the equivalent of council cash offices.
Cllr Bates said the watchdog PostWatch held up Hemingford Grey, where the office re-opened in the church hall with the vicar, the Rev Peter Cunliffe as postmaster, as a shining example of how communities could retain their own facilities.
A total of 16 councillors spoke in the debate - about 14 more than usually speak in debates on subjects over which the council actually has some influence.