Anger at post offices axe threat

AN ANGRY MP accused the Post Office of "deception" last night amid fears over branch closures in an Essex town.Colchester MP Bob Russell's claim was made after he was told the temporary closure of the town's Winnock Road branch could be made permanent – while other local branches may also be facing the axe.

By Sharon Asplin

AN ANGRY MP accused the Post Office of "deception" last night amid fears over branch closures in an Essex town.

Colchester MP Bob Russell's claim was made after he was told the temporary closure of the town's Winnock Road branch could be made permanent – while other local branches may also be facing the axe.

When the Winnock Road branch closed several months ago, the reason given was "operational" – but an assurance was made that it was only temporary.

It was meant to either reopen in due course or another location would be found in the same part of Colchester.

But the Post Office's Colchester area intervention office has told Mr Russell it is currently developing a "whole area plan for possible branch closures in Colchester, including Winnock Road."

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However, the Post Office said last night tough decisions had to be taken as too many branches were chasing too few customers, with insufficient business for all of them to survive.

A furious Mr Russell said: "The Post Office driven, I accept, by the Labour Government's demand that a third of the nation's urban network of post offices should be axed, is guilty of deception in my opinion by misleading me over the true extent of the closure of so many post office branches in Colchester."

Liberal Democrat Mr Russell said that at least four more branches were at risk if the national target was applied in Colchester.

"Three out of the 24 which existed in my constituency only a few months ago have already closed – at East Hill, Hythe Hill and Bergholt Road – and it now seems the one in Winnock Road will not reopen, despite previous assurances by the Post Office that by one means or another this part of New Town would have a replacement branch.

"You have only to look at the map of Colchester to see where the remaining branches are to realise that any further closures will have a serious impact on the communities which will lose them."

A spokeswoman for Postwatch, the consumer watchdog for postal services, said: "Postwatch set up the consultation process and we look at each and every case on an individual basis and make sure people still have access to postal services.

"But whenever a post office closes it is bad news for customers."

A Post Office spokeswoman said: "We are currently looking at the whole network of post office branches in the Colchester area. We anticipate the plan will be ready for public consultation some time this month or next month .

"The reality is that there are too many branches chasing too few customers doing insufficient business for all the branches to survive.

"If we, and those sub-postmasters who want to continue, are to re-establish our long-term viability, whilst at the same time operating a network of local branches that can continue to meet the needs of our customers, then we must change the way we provide post office services in this area."

She added the Winnock Road post office had shut in April and the Post Office had advertised for a replacement sub-postmaster

The East Anglian Daily Times has been campaigning to safeguard the region's network of post offices following fears their future could be at risk from the move to pay benefits and pensions into bank accounts, rather than in cash over the counter.

The EADT launched a Save Our Post Offices campaign and collected a 102,000-signature petition, which was presented to the Trade and Industry Secretary.

Earlier this week, Chelmsford West MP Simon Burns told the EADT that the post office network was being "decimated" after an announcement that two more branches in the county town were to close.

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