THE loss of a district council advice centre will force St Ives residents into a lengthy and expensive journey to Huntingdon, says a district council candidate for the town.

THE loss of a district council advice centre will force St Ives residents into a lengthy and expensive journey to Huntingdon, says a district council candidate for the town.

Jonathan Salt believes the closure of the Town Hall-based office is another example of Huntingdonshire District Council “stripping away facilities”, following the closure of the public toilets last year.

HDC approved in February a proposal to reduce staffing at centres across Huntingdonshire, which included the closure of the three-days-a-week St Ives office, and the downgrading of St Neots, Ramsey and Yaxley offices – part of a re-structure expected to save £600,000 over five years.

Mr Salt, who is standing for the St Ives (South) seat on HDC on May 5, said that consultation on the closure had been insufficient, and that in the course of his campaigning he had spoken to many residents who opposed the move.

“As people find out about it, people are getting angry,” said Mr Salt. “This is a bad decision, especially when offices elsewhere are being kept open.

“I’m not sure they [HDC] have taken into consideration the disabled and the elderly.

“The people who use the centre are not there regularly – they are there because of a crisis.”

The customer service centres offer help and advice with council services, benefits and form-filling, and host sessions with partner organisations. The St Ives office in the Town Hall received 11,346 enquiries in 2010.

From Monday, June 6 only the weekly Housing and Council Tax Benefit advice service will remain in St Ives, running from 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm.

Mr Salt said the proposed solution for St Ives residents seeking other services – travelling to the Huntingdon Pathfinder House headquarters – was not a realistic option.

“If you are not internet-savvy or don’t have a debit card – and many people do not – then you can’t make a payment over the phone. That means you have to go to Huntingdon, but that costs money.

“People are struggling financially and it is an extra form of tax to go on the bus. If you are disabled and cannot go on the bus, then a taxi is £10 each way.

“If HDC cannot afford to keep it open three days a week, then they should look at retaining it for one or two days a week.”

A petition against the removal of a similar office in Ramsey attracted more than 800 signatures and led to the service being retained on a part-time basis with the St Neots office.

HDC said the structure of its advice centres would be reviewed again in a year’s time.

● The decision does not affect the offices of St Ives Town Council.