Post offices reopen thanks to new scheme

TWO post offices in north Essex are set to reopen under a scheme which aims to rescue local branches for their communities.

Naomi Cassidy

TWO post offices in north Essex are set to reopen under a scheme which aims to rescue local branches for their communities.

Panfield Lane in Braintree and The Egg Box, White Notley, are to reopen under the Essex Post Office Scheme, the first of its kind to be launched last year to rescue local post offices for their communities.

The branches were two of 29 closed across Essex in February and March last year as part of a nationwide closure programme announced by the Post Office.

But now they are to join three others which have already been reopened since the scheme was launched and it is hoped ten more across Essex may follow.

And yesterday Lord Hanningfield, leader of Essex County Council, criticised the Post Office saying they shouldn't have been closed in the first place.

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Essex County Council said in total it is hoping 15 will reopen across the county as soon as possible.

The EADT launched its Save Our Post Offices campaign in 2007 when the announcement was made that several branches in the region would be hit.

Leader of Essex County Council Lord Hanningfield said: “I am delighted that these two post offices will shortly be back operating, where they rightly belong, at the heart of their communities.

“I have been a pioneer in the opening of these post offices. They are a vital part of the community to a lot of people. For elderly people or people living on their own, getting out and about and going to the post office is a vital part of life. The Post Office is very silly to close them but I am pleased we have been able to at least stop the closures of these ones in Essex.

“Reopening these post offices is rather like buying a house, a lot of hard work and negotiations have to take place but we are determined to do it as quickly as we can.”

The county council had to work closely with the Post Office to form the Essex Model, which is designed to help develop ways of delivering the service of a post office to communities. Under the scheme, local community facilities such as pubs, village shops and cricket clubs could become home to a post office.

The initiative was recently praised by the government as an example of excellent community leadership and MPs from the House of Commons' Business and Enterprise Select Committee are set to visit Essex tomorrow to hear more about the scheme as several other local authorities have expressed interest in it. The members will also be holding a public meeting to get the views of residents.

Lord Hanningfield added: “Post offices in Essex are incredibly important and feedback from residents in areas where we have already re-opened sites has been very positive. The fact that the Select Committee is taking such an unusual step to leave Westminster and visit Essex shows how important the work we are doing has been.

“I would urge all residents to get involved with the Select Committee's inquiry and come to the public meeting so they too can hear the feedback I have been hearing.”

The public meeting will be held tomorrow between 1pm and 2pm at Shire Hall, Chelmsford, for residents to put across their views on the future of post offices.

The members will also be visiting Station Way post office in Buckhurst Hill, which was the first post office to reopen in the country following the closures.

A Post Office Ltd spokesman said: “We are very willing to work with local authorities and other groups who want to fund, and provide premises and staff for, additional services in their community. However, proposals need to demonstrate ability to provide premises, staff to manage the provision of services and, crucially, sufficient funding to cover any 'one off ' set up costs of the operation and the ongoing fixed costs until at least March 2011.”

Essex County Council has already reopened three post offices, Station Way Post Office in Buckhurst Hill, Little Hanningbury Post Office, and Henham Post Office.