Why Haringey's Post Offices should be kept open

This is the response I’ve sent in to the consultation over the future of our Post Offices:

As Member of Parliament for Hornsey & Wood Green I would like to submit the following response to the consultation on the proposed closures of sub-post offices in Alexandra Park (N10), Salisbury Road (N22), Weston Park (N8), Ferme Park Road (N4) and Highgate High Street (N6) – this last being in Hampstead & Highgate constituency but one side of the main high street – which equally affects my constituents.

I enclose responses of those constituents who have sent in their views to me by email and by post.

All the proposed closures will adversely affect my constituents in terms of access, hardship, impact on local economy, impact on neighbouring shops, home workers and so on. The local network was already pared down to a minimum in the last round of ‘voluntary’ closures and these further proposals will, in varying degrees, lead to a diminution (possibly death) of a locally sustainable community hub. One key issue will be the sustainability of local/micro shopping centres that rely heavily on the footfall generated by Post Offices. If they go then other shops on these parades will become more marginal and less able to survive in a retail environment where they are more and more under fire from the big out of town supermarkets. We risk empty shop units which in turn lead to vandalism etc.

The proposed closures will also deliver a devastating impact on small businesses and home workers who rely on having a local Post Office in order to carry out their commercial activities. This was acknowledged in the Post Office’s own Counter Revolutions report which stated that nine out of ten small local businesses rely on such a facility.

On the broader issues, much is made of alternative services at other offices when deciding which branches to close. But little account is taken of the contribution made to social cohesion by the PO network. How can this be reconciled in a Borough that calls down and spends £10m’s each year on regeneration projects to tackle these issues? This is not joined up thinking.

Whist the Government has considered the ‘financial loss’ sustained by the current level of 14,000 Post Offices across the country, it does not appear to have done (or the Post Office as its implementation arm) any work on the individual costs to people in the extra time that will be spent in accessing the proposed alternative or the extra time incurred with longer wait times at those alternatives for those already customers at the proposed alternative locations. I would suggest that work should be carried out so that the public who are affected by these proposals can see the cost / benefits properly. As it stands the benefit is to the Post Office and the cost is to local people. Quantifying that cost would be instructive and shed more light on the real cost of the suggested closures.

The accuracy of the information on the ‘branch access report’ is variable which must cast doubt on the basis on which decisions are being made. Moreover, the suggestions in terms of alternatives in some cases are laughable – demonstrating a lack of accurate assessment or knowledge of the alternative branches, their capacity and their suitability.

In my response I address the criteria as laid down by the Post Office consultation team in relationship to each of the proposed closures that affect my constituents. The Consultation Team will receive a huge response to their consultation for each of the proposed closures affecting my constituents. I trust that the individual stories that people will tell of the personal affect of the proposed closure on them will have a positive outcome in the final decision.

I assume that the responses will be analysed and that they will be available to public scrutiny and that decisions taken post-consultation will be demonstrated to have taken count of the responses.

I understand that petitions will be counted as one submission. If the Royal Mail Chief Executive received a letter signed by 300 staff in HQ, would they dismiss it as “just one letter”? If that is the case, I would argue strongly that is unacceptable as these petitions are gathered locally by users of each Post Office and not everyone is able to respond to a written consultation with their personal story. I met many such people on my visits to my local Post Offices and would suggest that petitions be given a proper weighting to take count of them and not any diminution of their strength of feeling. Many older people, often the most affected by the proposals, will not write an individual letter but will sign a petition. Freedom of Information will be used to hold the Post Office to account for the decisions it makes.

The following points relate individually to each of the proposed closures:

Alexandra Park Road (N10)
There has been an enormous (angry) response to the proposal to close this sub-post office. Two officers of the Post Office attended a packed (over 300) public meeting to explain the proposed closures and answer questions. It was a civilised meeting and we were grateful to the officers for attending. However, they will have heard in no uncertain terms the powerful arguments made by so many in the hall. I attended the meeting myself.

The footfall count on the branch access report is wrong and substantially lower than the actual footfall. The information is therefore inaccurate and should be re-assessed.

I understand that a promise was made (in writing) when the Crescent Road sub-post office was closed a couple of years ago that Alexandra Park Road Post Office would not become the subject of any proposed closure in the future.

Numerous people, particularly the elderly, those with mobility problems, mothers with buggies will face hardship as the proposed alternatives will see them having to use public transport or a car with the obvious difficulties that presents. In addition – this is a hilly area which adds greatly to the problems of accessing the proposed alternative of Alexandra Parade or Muswell Hill.

One older local resident trialled the alternative to Muswell Hill. Including walk time to bus, wait time for bus, queuing time at Muswell Hill and the reverse back to her home. It took her one hour fifty seven minutes.

The proposed alternative of Alexandra Parade is smaller and more difficult to access and the second alternative of Muswell Hill is already at capacity with long queues.

There is a very high level of home working in this area and a high usage of postal facilities for both post and package.

At the public meeting it was clear that many home workers who post packages would not use the alternative Post Office but would convert to other providers resulting in a loss of business to the Post Office and therefore not providing a saving but a loss.

The post mistress and master at this sub-post office are much loved by the community, are part of the community and literally keep an eye out for their customers well-being.

In a small parade of shops vital to the area (where older residents can find most of what they need to survive without having to go into a more central area) closure of this sub-post office will affect the trade of these other shops detrimentally and will threat
the sustainability of the parade itself.

Hardship, access, impact on local economy, impact on neighbouring businesses, impracticality of alternatives etc – all apply to Alexandra Park Road.

Highgate High Street (N6)
This is my own local Post Office – so I declare an interest – but it is an interest shared by everyone in Highgate. There was a mass protest held outside the Post Office and you may well have seen some of the coverage in the media – Evening Standard, local papers, Mail, Sky News etc. The Highgate Society has been at the forefront of the campaign – and this campaign is supported passionately by local residents. There will again be a huge response by individuals to the consultation.

Highgate is extremely hilly and the alternatives proposed mean that even if an elderly or mobility impaired person was able to walk to one of the proposed alternatives – their chances of getting back up the hill are slim. This is a truly impossible task for anyone with mobility issues. Please come and walk it with me to see for yourself. This will cause extreme hardship.

There is an elderly population in this area who would be particularly affected.

The proposed alternative on Archway Road is not suitable. It is tiny, really tiny and already sustains a virtually permanent queue of 15 or minutes.

The footfall recorded in the branch access report of the Archway Road alternative is misleading. Archway is a tiny Post Office where all us Highgate residents have to go to retrieve any parcel that could not be delivered because we were out. Parcel collection from this function alone must raise the counted footfall on the branch access assessment. It could not cope with even half the people from Highgate High Street if they did re-route there.

Because of the hilly nature of Highgate, people who have no car and cannot walk may be involved in either the expense of a taxi, may not go out to a Post Office when they need to and may be reduced to staying in their homes and relying on friends or relatives.

Alternatively for those who have cars, they will use their cars – which is not something to be encouraged for such journeys.

The Highgate Post Office situated as it is at the back of a wonderland of a stationery shop is part of village life, provides custom to the shop itself and neighbouring shop and a vital part of this sustainable community.

Again there is a high level of home working, which will be adversely hit by the loss of the Post Office.

Hardship, access, impact on local economy, impact on neighbouring businesses, impracticality of alternatives etc – all apply to Highgate High Street

Salisbury Road (N22)
I held a surgery in this sub-post office to hear what local residents thought of the proposed closure. Once again there was a fantastic turn out – and it was crystal clear that if this Post Office closes it will cause severe hardship to many, many local people. At this surgery – there was a large contingent of older ladies who made it clear in no uncertain terms that they wanted to tell the government exactly what they think of the proposals. I write below a few of the stories as whilst many signed the petition, they were a bit nervous of actually responding individually to the consultation itself. I am concerned that this may be the case for some older residents for whom writing an ‘official’ letter is a challenging step.

Some of the views given by local residents on the day. Obviously people will be responding to the consultation but to give the Consultation Team a flavour read the following:

‘In this case the suggested alternative is on an impossible to cross, never free of traffic junction. It is a quarter of the size of the Salisbury Road one and you can’t get wheelchairs properly through the door and to the counter. This one – by contrast – is easy access for wheelchairs (two at a time if need be), has plenty of meter parking for those who cannot walk and has lots of room in the shop.I met many, many people here today. The older ladies were all up in arms. Olive wanted a soap box to tell the Government where they could stick it! But Mrs Howe, 75 in a wheelchair is incandescent at what this will do to her life and her ability to get out and about. Another lady who cannot walk very far – but who can get to this Post Office – told me that it would cost her £4.00 each way to the Post Office she would have to go to as she would have to get a taxi. Was Labour going to reimburse her? Another woman told me that she cares for her severely disabled husband who would have no chance of ever being able to get to a Post Office again.’

Once again the information on the branch access report is inaccurate. It states that there is no post box outside. There is. These inaccuracies make these reports unreliable as a basis for decisions.

There is a high proportion of older people who will be adversely affected.

Local shopkeepers from other businesses in this little parade approached me to say that if this branch closes their business will be adversely impacted.

Ferme Park Road & Weston Park (both in Stroud Green ward)
The proposed closure of Ferme Park Road and Weston Park is a double whammy for residents of neighbouring Stroud Green and Crouch End that would leave a large gap in provision in their area. A large march of several hundred residents was staged to highlight this issue. The march to the Crouch End Post Office alternative demonstrated both the strength of feeling and the inability of Crouch End to absorb diverted business.

There are a number of reasons why these Post Offices should not close:

Hornsey High Street is proposed as an alternative: it is already grossly overtrading – long queues and long waiting times. This will be made much worse when the Hornsey Central Depot development (300 dwellings) arrives.

– There are no direct bus links from Weston Park to Hornsey High Street.

– The remaining Post Offices at Tottenham Lane and Stroud Green Road are already very busy. Tottenham Lane in particular is already at full capacity and there does not appear to be any room for it to expand. Residents told us they were already using smaller Post Offices like Ferme Park Road to avoid the long queues elsewhere and get a more helpful, less rushed service. Other Post Offices stated as alternatives are simply not realistic. For instance, Hornsey High Street is not a location residents in much of this area

are aware of, is further away and already very busy.

– The closure of both these Post Offices would create a large gap in provision. People living in the centre of this gap (on roads around Mount View Road) would be a long distance from any alternatives. This area is on top of a very steep hill which adds to the difficulty, especially for those with reduced mobility. Also residents would have to cross either Tottenham Lane or Stroud Green Road which are both busy A-roads.

– Again, there is a high rate of home-working and self employed people using these Post Offices, who have said they would take their custom to competitors rather than travel further and wait longer to use the alternative Post Offices.

– Both these Post Offices are very convenient for less mobile groups. Ferme Park is next to a primary school and Weston Park is next to a primary school, a secondary school and older people’s sheltered housing block. They are well used by families with small children and elderly people, who would find it difficult to travel further. The alternative Post Offices are on very busy main roads with limited parking opportunities.

That concludes my response to your consultation. I trust that together with the responses from individuals and other groups in the area – the Post Office will halt its proposed closures.

Yours sincerely…