Issues over post office site visit

PUBLISHED: 11:09 18 December 2008 | UPDATED: 21:52 26 October 2009

A copy of a letter sent to Vicky Marshment, Programme Co-ordinator, Postwatch/Consumer Focus, 28 Grosvenor Gardens, London, SW1W 0TT Dear Ms Marshment, Post Office Network Change Programme: Handside Branch, WGC Thank you for your reply of November 24

A copy of a letter sent to Vicky Marshment, Programme Co-ordinator, Postwatch/Consumer Focus, 28 Grosvenor Gardens, London, SW1W 0TT

Dear Ms Marshment,

Post Office Network Change Programme: Handside Branch, WGC

Thank you for your reply of November 24 to my letter bearing the date November 4, enclosing a copy of the Site Visit Report for the Handside branch carried out on March 17, 2008. (I apologise that the date of my letter was mis-typed, and should have been Nov 13.)

I was interested to note the recommendation in the report, that Handside branch '...is popular and well used by locals, many of them elderly. Propose POL re-examine this option.' And was therefore surprised and disappointed that - as stated in you letter to me dated November 11 - Postwatch decided not to escalate this case for further review with POL '...as on the balance of the evidence we did not believe this to be a flawed proposal that would cause undue inconvenience to customers.' This is despite the Site Visit Report recommendation, and the compelling factual evidence set out in the 'Handside PO Group Submission to Post Office Limited' of July 2008. This implies Postwatch made no further effort to confirm or take full account of all relevant local factors - which was a clear requirement on you highlighted in the BERR document from May 2007 'The Post Office Network: Government response to public consultation'.

In that context it is necessary to take issue with specific aspects of the Site Visit Report:

* The report states that the walking time from the Handside branch to the Howardsgate branch is only 10 minutes. I have walked the shortest route between the two branches at a steady pace (I play golf), which took me just over 15 minutes. The distance is just over 0.9 mile, which means I walked at a pace of 3.6mph. To walk that distance in the 10 minutes suggested by you representative would mean achieving a speed of c.5.5mph, which is faster on the Army's 'quick march' pace, would be impossible for most people, and is a ridiculous suggestion for many residents in the area.

* The report indicates there is a bus route between the two branches. This is true, but there is no mention of the frequency of those services (for which there is provision on the report form) or that there is no facility for wheelchair access to those busses.

* As stated, there is only limited free parking close to Howardsgate area (not quantified in the report despite provision for this information), whilst pay and display parking is available. The minimum charge at such car parks is £1, which, added to the current high cost of fuel, makes a car journey to the town centre unduly expensive for pensioners on a limited income. The implication of this question, of course, is that use of a car is an unacceptable alternative, ignoring the fact that the majority of elderly and infirm people who use Handside branch do not drive (see also comments on walking and public transport), and that there is no environmental cost to encouraging greater car usage - surely an untenable position.

* In showing the associated facilities around the respective branches, there is no mention of the hairdresser next door to the Handside branch, which offers special rates for pensioners during the week and is very popular with the same elderly people who have relied on the post office branch. With that facility, the supermarket and the post office, there has been a community focal point catering for the demographics of the area. (I note the report was prepared during a Monday morning visit. The hairdresser opens at 11.00 on Mondays and I wonder if it was closed at the time, which is why it was not mentioned, and that your representative did not see a fair reflection of the customer flow?)

I appreciate that in making your decision not to escalate this case for further review with POL you may have been influenced by the Site Visit Report from you representative, and that it would have been difficult for you to verify details from the centre for 2500 cases. However, from the foregoing comments, hopefully you will appreciate that the report was far from satisfactory in the respect of the situation in Handside, and that it is important you revisit the case taking account of the true facts. No doubt you will argue that the branch is now closed and it is all too late, but there are no obstacles to reopening the branch, and it is important for Postwatch to be seen to fulfil its prescribed role as our consumer champion.

I look forward to hearing that you will reopen the case, including the possible involvement of Handside PO Group representatives in the review with POL.

R A Woodward, Springfields, WGC.


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