LUFF OPPOSES THREE POST OFFICE CLOSURES
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LUFF OPPOSES THREE POST OFFICE CLOSURES

The closure of Pinvin and Bengeworth post offices have been formally opposed by Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff in his response to the consultation that closes tomorrow, 7th October. He also argues that Cleeve Prior's post office should be transferred to an Outreach service.

In a letter to the consultation team about the Bengeworth closure, Peter writes,

"In principle I am opposed to all post office closures and I have written separately about the very regrettable closures of the Pinvin and Cleeve Prior offices. However, I understand the commercial pressures facing Post Office Ltd (POL) and I accept that the decision to close 2,500 Post Offices has been taken by the Government. I understand then, that the Post Office Ltd must select some offices in my constituency for closure.

"What the Post Office must now do is make sure that the offices it closes are the least sensitive. I firmly believe the proposed closure of the Bengeworth branch is wrong, and that it should be removed from the proposed closure list. Apart from the two main offices in Droitwich and Evesham (both, I suspect, part of the core commercial network) Bengeworth is one of only very few offices that I believe are literally essential in my constituency."

The rest of the letter reads as follows:

This letter is intended as a supplement to the main submission from the Friends of Bengeworth Post Office, which enjoys my full support, together with that of all local town, district and county councillors.

Loss of an Outstanding Level of Service

Bengeworth Post Office offers an outstanding level of service. It is doing well, it is thriving. Post Office Ltd themselves recognise Bengeworth is a remarkable office and have given it new business; earlier this year it was given "Euros on demand" and made into an express branch for parcels.

The sub postmistress, Pearl Bennett, is widely loved and valued by her local community. Pearl and her small team offer a personal, friendly service which is quite rightly cherished by her customers. The office has been run by Pearl's family for over forty years, and as such she is not just another face behind a counter, but a linchpin of the local community.

This was demonstrated spectacularly in a public meeting that attracted around 250 residents and a march that had nearly 1,000 participants.

The success of Bengeworth Post Office has been recognised nationally, and has received several awards for outstanding service.


Loss of a Convenient Service

Bengeworth is not so much part of Evesham as a village adjacent to it. It is a distinct community, geographically and socially, and its residents value the service of their post office at the heart of that community.

If the Bengeworth Office were to close, the nearest service for its current customers would be the Evesham Branch on the main town's High Street, which is a little under a mile away. It is easy to see how a consultation team deciding the fate of Bengeworth but unfamiliar with the area could think this distance is of little importance, but in reality for the many elderly residents of Bengeworth such a distance - an additional round trip of nearly two miles - is a huge challenge.

Public transport is not, contrary to what Postwatch believed, anywhere near adequate to provide regular trips to the main office. There is no service in the afternoons and a limited one in the mornings.
The topography of the walk down Port Street over the Workman Bridge and up one of two steep uphill roads to the High Street is very challenging for a fit person, but virtually impossible for a disabled or elderly person. The distance quoted in the consultation document between the two offices is 0.7 miles; many if not most of the people who currently use Bengeworth Post Office already walk quite some distance to get there and for these people the one-and-a-half mile round-trip is additional.
For those, especially business customers, who drive to Bengeworth because of the relative ease of access, parking near to the High Street post office would be extremely difficult.

The Evesham office in the High Street is already very widely used by the rest of the town. The sub postmaster there and his team work very hard, but it can be difficult to keep up with demand, and long queues are not uncommon, especially at peak times. I do not believe this office can cope with the additional business that should be generated if Bengeworth were to close. Evesham needs all four offices to sustain its role as market town serving many of the villages around as well as its own population.

Additionally, there is doubt over the long-term future of the High Street's present location as it depends on Royal Mail's continued need for the co-located delivery office.

Bengeworth is also prone to serious flooding. When this happens, and the bridge into the main town is out of action, Bengeworth is effectively cut off from the rest of Evesham. Bengeworth was isolated from the rest of Evesham during the summer floods of 2007 and previously in 1998, both for considerable periods.

Loss of a Banking Service

Closing the Post Office would mean the loss of the only banking service in Bengeworth and the loss of any access to "free" (i.e. zero commission) cash in the community.

This would be a severe blow to the many residents and small businesses that depend on the facility at the Post Office.

It is also unlikely that this banking business would be retained by POL as those making the difficult journey to the High Street branch will have to walk past several main bank branches on the way. The assumption that 80% of POL business will be retained in the network is unlikely to be valid in this case.


Devastating Impact on Local Economy

The local economy of Bengeworth has been very fragile. It has been a neglected part of the town for many years, but it is slowly coming back to life. There are now real grounds for hope of a more positive future for the area - a future in which POL can only share if it retains the Bengeworth office

Shops and businesses, which for years were struggling along Port Street, are now receiving considerable encouragement, from the district council and the regional development agency.

Permission has been granted for the construction of a Lidl supermarket in Bengeworth, a very short walk from the current post office. It is estimated this supermarket will attract about 6,000 shoppers a week, and it will provide free parking. It goes without saying that with that number of increased shoppers in the area, the demand for postal services will also increase - indeed Lidl's decision to locate in the area is believed to have been influenced in part by the proximity of a post office.

Post Office is essential to attracting small businesses to the area. If you are looking for new premises as a business owner, one of the things you give great consideration to is the location of the nearest post office. It would be tragic to lose this local office at a time of new hope for the area.
Economic regeneration in Port Street and Bengeworth has been assisted by the RDA, Advantage West Midlands, and they are so concerned by the proposed closure of the Post Office that they have even written to the Consultation Team seeking a discussion over the future of the office. This is unprecedented anywhere in the RDA's area and highlights the real importance of this particular post office.

Housing development

Permission for several hundred new homes in the area has been granted; details will be contained in information provided by Wychavon district council and in the submission from the Friends.

The options for building further new housing around Evesham are limited by physical barriers and environmental considerations. The town has to expand to meet the demands of the regional spatial strategy - and the numbers in that strategy will only go up as the government increases its housing numbers during next year's consultation and public inquiry. So the 1,500 additional housing units allocated to the Bengeworth area will, with an extraordinarily high degree of certainty, be built over the next ten years or so.

Bengeworth post office stands to gain considerably more custom as a result, both in the short and medium term.

Disability and ethnicity

Within a short distance there are as many as six care homes which provide residential care for patients with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and dementia and general problems associated with old age. The residents of these care homes - especially those with leaning disabilities - use this Post Office and its closure would hit them very hard indeed. Details are attached as an appendix.

The population of Bengeworth is comprised of an ever growing ethnic mix. There are already well established Polish and Iraqi/Kurdish communities. Increasing numbers of immigrants are settling in the area - not least because it is affordable. These groups also tend to be financially disadvantaged.

Naturally these residents are regular users of postal services, and their growing numbers provide great opportunity for business expansion. There is strong evidence, that the Polish community in particular, relies on and regularly uses the Bengeworth Post Office. This is reflected in the fact that campaign material against closure has been reproduced in Polish.


Conclusion

This is a community that already feels virtually under siege. Not so long ago they had to fight to keep their local hospital. They have been severely devastated by floods twice in the last ten years. It is, though, slowly getting back on its feet. It has great potential to be a thriving area of small business, supported by its strong and expanding local community. A well run, efficient post office is essential to make sure that happens. Bengeworth is lucky to already have one. It must stay open.

Better times are on their way for Bengeworth - POL can both support and take advantage of this process by reversing its closure proposal.

ENDS

Photogrpah shows Peter Luff with Pearl Bennett, Sub Post Mistress of Bengeworth Post Office


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