The proposed closure of the Crown Post Office in Central St Leonards has created a lot of local concern. These are concerns I share.
Hastings Council had not been consulted about the closure until very recently. We were told last year that the Post Office were seeking a ‘retail partner’, and that there would be a consultation if they found one. So we passed a resolution at full council opposing the closure, which was supported by all councillors, following which I wrote to the chief executive of the Post Office expressing the council’s opposition to their proposal.
The local Post Office has been at the heart of economic regeneration in Central St Leonards, supporting new businesses and providing the services they need, especially since all local bank branches closed. It’s also important to the most vulnerable sections of the community who find it difficult to travel further afield – St Leonards still has many low income households, people from minority ethnic groups, older people, and disabled people living nearby.
The Post Office are proposing to sell the freehold of the building to a franchisee, who will provide the same range of services as is on offer now. However, this is likely to lead to the loss of skilled and knowledgeable workers. The number of counters is also going to be reduced significantly, which is likely to lead to more queues.
The franchisee will be required to maintain post office services in the building for only five years. After this, the building could be converted or sold on. It’s highly improbable that the proposed business model, whereby a retail operation will accompany the post office counters selling stationery, confectionery and newspapers (we’re told they won’t be applying for an alcohol licence) could be profitable. There are many shops in St Leonards already selling those.
With an unsustainable business model, it’s likely that the post office franchise and its supporting retail operation would end after the minimum five years. Then the building could be sold and converted (potentially as housing) at a significant profit. That, I believe, is the most likely outcome, and would lead to the entire loss of post office services from Central St Leonards.
But there are other ways to make the St Leonards Post Office sustainable. The building is seriously under-used. The whole upper floor is empty. This could be used as office or business accommodation (which is in demand in St Leonards) or indeed converted into housing either for rent or sale. Proper use of the building could make it sustainable, and indeed profitable. Hastings Council would be willing to talk to the Post Office about such proposals, and how the council could help with that.
Failing that, a consortium of local businesses and residents have expressed an interest in taking on the franchise. This could be a significantly better option than the doubtful model being proposed, as they would have an interest in keeping a fully-functioned post office operating, rather than maximising the value of the property.
Central St Leonards needs a full range of post office services, offered by properly trained and qualified staff, guaranteed well into the future. There are ways that can be achieved without selling the building and setting up an unsustainable franchise. I hope the Post Office will take heed of the consultation responses, and reconsider this closure.
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