Monday, August 25, 2008

Post Office Consultation Response

Blogging has been a little light recently as I have been moving house, but the deadline for the consultation on Labour's post office closure program hitting Cambridge is tomorrow, so I have submitted the following response:

Network Change Programme: Area Plan Proposal Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and South Lincolnshire

Response to Consultation

This is a response from Councillor Chris Howell, a member of Cambridge City Council representing Coleridge ward to the Area Plan Proposal Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and South Lincolnshire.

I am writing to object to the planned closure of 3 Post Offices in the Cambridge City Area, and specifically to oppose the proposed closure to St Johns Post Office on Hills Road in Coleridge Ward. There should be no reason why the current network in Cambridge City should not be viable as it is, and indeed it urgently needs to be expanded to address areas currently lacking in provision such as Barnwell in Abbey Ward, and in the South of the City such as Addenbrokes, where St Johns is actually already the most convenient alternative.

Factors Relevant to all Post Offices in Cambridge Under Threat

Population Growth Generally
Cambridgeshire’s population has grown by 26% since 1981 (per Cambridgeshire County Council Research Group population estimates 1981-2006) and the County is forecast to be among the fastest growing in the country over the next fifteen years (per Office for National Statistics 2004-based population projections). There is significant government pressure to build homes in the County, and much of the planned growth will be in the Southern Cambridgeshire sub-region – locally produced estimates indicate the population in the City could increase by over 30% over the next 15-20 years.

Growth in student numbers
Both Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin University have expanded student numbers greatly over recent years (e.g. Cambridge University total undergraduates and post graduates increased from 12,118 to 17,845 from 1981-2007 -, and this trend is expected to continue. All three post offices threatened with closure are in areas with significant student populations.

New business opportunities
There are many areas that post offices could expand into, notably the increased provision of government services (e.g. a ‘Government GP’ service as proposed by the Conservatives), and there is huge political goodwill from all parties to make this type of arrangement work.

Pressure on the Central Post Office
The Central Post Office in Cambridge is already busy at peak periods, and will not be able to support additional visits from nearby Post Offices closing – in another area I am aware of shutting the local sub post office to the main office resulted in unacceptable levels of queuing.

St John’s Post Office, Hills Road,
St John’s Post Office is centred on an area of extraordinary population growth. Over 2,000 new homes are either recently completed, under construction or have detailed approved planning permission, including major sites within 100 yards of the post office. The precise sites are detailed in the formal response from Cambridge City Council. This will clearly increase visits to the Post Office far in excess of the current levels. There is also a major redevelopment planned for the nearby station area.

Lack of Post Office Coverage in South Cambridge
Following the earlier closure of the Wulfstan Way Post Office, vast areas of the South of Cambridge, including Addenbrokes Hospital are now a long way from a post office – for many people in Queen Edith’s ward in particular, St Johns is currently their local post office, and its closure will require them to travel further. The journey to the alternative on Hills Road or the Central Post Office requires a journey down a busy and frequently congested main road.

Lack of suitable alternatives
The most obvious alternative, Cherry Hinton Road has restricted opening times, including shutting over the key lunchtime period. If St Johns is shut, the Post Office must ensure that Cherry Hinton Road branch is open for longer including lunch times.

Finally, consultation arrangements have been unfortunate to say the least for the student population – all three earmarked for closure are in areas heavily populated with students, either from the central colleges, or in the case of St Johns from neighbouring Homerton College. As it stands, students will have left Cambridge for the summer prior to the closures being announced, and will return after the closure of the consultation. If there is any sense in which the consultation is a meaningful exercise, the deadline for responses must be extended into the Autumn to allow representations from students and student organisations.

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