Burns opposes post office closures

RURAL post offices in Essex and Suffolk have been closing at an alarming rate in the past few years – but now it seems Royal Mail is preparing to scythe through the urban network, with Chelmsford one of the first casualties.

By Graham Dines

RURAL post offices in Essex and Suffolk have been closing at an alarming rate in the past few years – but now it seems Royal Mail is preparing to scythe through the urban network, with Chelmsford one of the first casualties.

Simon Burns, Tory MP for Chelmsford West, has taken up the cudgels on behalf of the Melbourne and Boarded Barns Residents' Association, which is "horrified" at the proposed closures of the Trent Road and Kings Road post offices.

Pensioners and young families will be badly affected on the western side of Essex's county town. "I cannot see the justification for these closures and I really do think the Post Office must think again because of the detrimental effect they will have on the local community and the provision of services," says Mr Burns.

In a letter to Royal Mail, he says: "I would like to know on what analysis you reach the conclusion that both post offices should close and what commercial information backs up your statements that they are no longer viable."

While there may be some hope for people in the Kings Road area because the Chelmsford Star Co-Op is prepared to operate a sub office at its Altogether Fresher store, the MP wants a meeting between residents and Royal Mail officials to discuss the plans.

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LORD Phillips of Sudbury told fellow peers this week that he opposed an elected chamber to replace the House of Lords. In a debate in the upper house, he said elected peers by the party list system would make them more dependent on politcal patronage than MPs.

The list "effectively places the elective process into the hands of a tiny clique of party activists . . . elections by closed party lists are a gross sham of democracy."

Lord Phillips, a Liberal Democrat, suggested a referendum be held on the future constitution. He believed the complementary nature of the Lords vis-à-vis the Commons was not only desirable, but essential – since Labour won the 1997 election, the Lords had defeated the Government on 164 occasions.

MPs at Westminster are at last waking up to the growing menace caused by abandoned cars in the countryside following the European Union directive that motorists must pay to get rid of "end-of-life vehicles."

Attention to the problem was drawn last year by East of England Tory Euro MP Bashir Khanbhai, who was appalled at the number of abandoned cars and vans littering the hard shoulder of the A14 in West Suffolk.

Now Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley has joined the cause. "An independent report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy has warned that new EU directives and Government inaction will result in a quarter of a million cars being abandoned or torched easy year – equivalent to an extra 380 cars per Parliamentary constituency.

"An estimated 350,000 cars, an average of 530 per constituency, are already dumped each year."

Mr Ruffley says the number of brunt out cars across Suffolk soared by 98.8% between 1997 and 2000 and the EU directives will ensure the cost of car disposal to soar.

"My constituents are getting fed up with `Police Aware' stickers on abandoned cars. We need to change the law to give the police powers they need to tow these wrecks away."

IVAN Henderson, Labour MP for Harwich, has told Tony Blair he will not back military action against Iraq unless sanctioned by the Unied Nations.

However, Mr Henderson has issued a statement saying the "actions of the UK Government in recent months have been entirely justified. The Iraqi regime would not have all the United Nations' weapons inspectors back into their country without the massive pressure that has been exerted."

He added: "It is pointless to make a threat unless you are prepared to carry it out and I fully support the military build-up that would allow Iraq to be disarmed by force should the regime be in contravention of UN resolutions and refuse to comply voluntarily."

But the UN must vote for war. "The only circumstance that I can presently envisage that would possibly alter my position would be if a veto was used to prevent such a resolution at a time when the weight of evidence judged the Iraqi regime to be in breach of previous resolutions regarding weapons of mass destruction."

COLCHESTER Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell has taken up the cause of rapid transport systems, particularly light railways and trams, in towns with populations of more than 100,000.

If he is championing a Strasbourg-type network for Colchester, with possibly one route from the Garrison to North Station, the Hospital and beyond, and the other from the University and Greenstead to Lexden and Stanway, both via the High Street, he'll have the support of many who believe the only way to encourage people to leave their cars at home is to provide an efficient and quick public transport system which has absolute priority over all other traffic.

In a written Commons reply last week, he was told by junior transport minister David Jamieson: "It is for the local authority to consider in the first instance whether light rail might offer the most appropriate and cost-effective response to particular transport needs in its area and, if so, what form it might take.

"Thereafter, any light rail scheme – experimental or otherwise – would need to undergo rigorous appraisal, and examination under any relevant statutory procedures, before funding approval could be considered."

What Mr Russell wasn't told was that a Colchester scheme hasn't a snowball in hell's chance of being introduced while the borough remains just one of a number of virtually powerless district councils under Essex county council.

Metropolitan and unitary authorities have the only realistic hope of getting the nod from central government for tramways – so Mr Russell may yet be persuaded to lead an "independence for Colchester" movement or even back regional government, under which county councils will be scrapped and replaced by all-powerful, large, unitaries.

Which just leaves the little matter of who pays for it. Nottingham, Sheffield, Blackpool and Croydon have trams, Newcastle and Manchester a metro service and London and Glasgow an underground. Whether such a project – worthy though it may be – could possibly be cost effective in Britain's oldest recorded town is doubtful to say the least.


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