Press release: BATTLE TO PROTECT POST OFFICE SERVICES IN NEWTON HALL

Your local Lib Dems have uped the pressure in their battle to protect post office services in Newton Hall as shocking new evidence comes to light

In working to save the post office from being downgraded we have uncovered shocking information and held further high level discussions. Last week we held a two and a half hour meeting with Post Office bosses. Further clarification was sought about the proposals to shut the existing post office on Alnwick Road in Newton Hall. Current plans were to run a downgraded branch model with reduced staffing and service cuts out of another premises nearby.

We have been in further discussions this week including a conference call with Post Office management. We discovered that the branch was going to be downgraded regardless of whether it remained in its current location or moved into a neighbouring McColls newsagents.

It also turns out the post office has been for sale for FOUR years, yet no-one locally was told about this. No for sale boards or signs were placed at the post office and most staff knew nothing of the proposed sale. The only place the advert could be seen was on the website of a Manchester based company. Unless someone was specifically looking for a post office to buy they would never have known.

Councillor Amanda Hopgood says “It turns out the existing post office has been for sale for four years, but this was never made known locally. This has left us and members of the local community furious. The whole purpose of our campaign has been to make sure that the branch remains a “Main” post office. The consultation contained nothing about this and intentions have been to downgrade services regardless of where the branch remains.”

Fellow councillor Mark Wilkes who has been leading the discussions has now amended the online version of their petition to focus solely on protecting the “Main” status of the branch saying “The chances of the existing site being retained are diminishing. The owner looks set to accept a retirement offer. The lease has run out. We are now fighting to make sure that Newton Hall retains its “Main” status.”

Craig Martin who is the prospective Lib Dem MP for Durham City added “Keeping ‘main’ status may give staff the opportunity to keep working in a proper post office if they want to. It will save badly needed services and keep the capacity we need. It could be that McColls will be the knights in shining armour. Or there may be an alternative location or solution. What matters is that we continue the fight to protect the service.”

The original plan for the Post Office was for a “local” branch model to be put into McColls. However this would have left a kiosk like service without necessary capacity. Many services would be lost including sending large parcels, paying in cheques, transcash, an ATM for post office payments and up to a dozen other services.

Following their extensive talks with the Post Office, your Lib Dem councillors can confirm that the Post Office is now in high level discussion with McColls about the national newsagent chain upgrading their model.

If an upgrade is successful it is thought it will be the only successful change to proposals so far in the country. Management had previously said to the councillors that they were not aware of any location in the country where a decision had been amended in this way. There is no responsibility for local councillors to take on such campaigns and the campaign is said to have made major ripples at headquarters.

Councillor Mamie Simmons says “We have asked to meet with senior management from McColls, and the Post Office is looking at facilitating this. If we can protect the “Main” status of the branch and services we are certain that residents will be happy. It is possible we may hear news before any further meetings, but it is absolutely imperative that residents sign the online petition. The online petition can be signed at www.ipetitions.com/petition/newtonhallpostoffice. Councillors are asking residents from across the County to help by signing the petition to send a message which “can’t be ignored” to those in charge.

The consultation continues to run and residents are asked to put forward their views on the consultation as well, including the need to protect the Main status of the branch:

The consultation, runs until the 9th September. Residents can email [email protected] with reference 23131399, or write to: “FREEPOST Your Comments” with the same reference.

POST OFFICE PETITION CHANGES

 

We have amended our post Office petition after lengthy discussions with management and a press release will appear shortly on this site and will be sent out to the local press. Please sign the petition here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/newtonhallpostoffice

Some considerations as to why the post office must be retained as a main post office.

1. Demographics – The Newton Hall area has the highest elderly population in the whole of County Durham. Access to the main post office in Durham requires parking in a paid parking area and then walking from 250-500m to the pedestrian area where the main post office is located. This will be very inconvenient and costly for a huge number of our elderly residents and does not make social or economic sense.

2. Demographics – Newton Hall has a significantly higher than average for the North East, number of residents with family and friends living overseas. This includes family members of British Overseas forces. The University has an enormous overseas population of students and teaching, and support staff, many of whom live in Newton Hall. Many use overseas services. Note that when it was built Newton Hall was the biggest housing estate in Europe. Some overseas and forces services will be lost.

3. Public Support – There is enormous public support for protecting existing servcies. In the first few days of creating a petition to protect the existing post office and services 600 signatures were obtained. .

4. Opening Hours – If the post office is downgraded, any improved opening hours will be of little consequence to many users as they will still have to go to Silver Street in Durham.

5. Expansion of Population – To the west, and within less than one mile of the post office, the council has put forward proposals as part of its County Plan to build up to 4500 new houses. Residents of these new areas will be closer to Newton Hall than to the main post office in Durham City.

6. Capacity – Whilst attending the existing site on Friday evening, we helped the postman collecting parcels. 5 full sacks of parcels were taken out to the van, his third trip of the day. This during school holidays when many residents are on holiday. There is simply not enough space in the proposed new facility if it is modelled as a ‘Local’ to store and process the level of packages currently processed. Given that the Post Office and Royal Mail aims to increase their parcel business, it is not clear how reducing capacity can possibly assist in that aim.

7. Community hub – Whilst it is recognised that a business must be sustainable, it is also clear that the post office acts as a community hub, a point for exchanging stories and information. This will be lost if the post office is simply a kiosk, and there is a wider risk of such a move reducing the number of customers to neighbouring businesses. This would create a vicious cycle affecting other businesses and is unacceptable.

8. Consultation – The current consultation period is flawed. It commences when schools are closed, and provides no opportunity for the 9 schools using the facility to comment on their views. Some of the services used by local schools will not continue and that business will be lost. The consultation period should be extended by two weeks to allow schools and those parents who may be on holidays to have adequate time to respond.

9. Consultation – The consultation documents contain inaccurate information, stating that some services will remain when they will not, and in other cases is confusing and does not provide detail of many of the service changes. The consultation does not properly explain that this is a downgrade to a ‘local’.

10. Loss of neighbouring facility services – Whilst it is appreciated that no area is losing a post office, there has been a loss of some services at neighbouring relocated post offices. This has placed increased pressure on Newton Hall. Durham City’s main post office which recently underwent modernisation does not have the capacity to provide the services which would be lost if Newton Hall were moved.

11. Business model – It is very clear to us that a main post office would be sustainable in Newton Hall as it is busier than many other post offices.

12. Cost of retention – There is no detail in the consultation as to the total cost of the proposed changes. This should be made available to the public given that it is public money which will be spent. Additional funding would be available if main status was retained.

13. Surrounding area – The post office does not only serve Newton Hall. Smaller communities such Brasside and Finchale Abbey Village, with larger than average elderly populations use the facilities and it would place greater inconvenience on residents from these localities.

14. Sustainability – Durham City is currently under an Air Quality Management Order due to excessive pollution levels. The centralisation of services will contribute to increased traffic having to use the City centre. Because of the topography of Durham, with Newton Hall being on hills and Durham being in the River valley, walking into Durham to use the City Centre facility is not possible for most people. Cycling is also problematic for similar reasons. Despite having a large population Newton Hall does not have great bus services. These issues affect not just elderly, but also the disabled and the wider general public.

15. Safety and Security – It is unclear how a downgraded ‘local’ branch will be able to safely store residents parcels. It is further unclear how the limited staff members will be able to protect the rest of the store if they are spending more time dealing with queues of customers from the post office. It should not be for the local authorities to have to use resources to deal with the deficiencies in the proposed new store.

16. Cash withdrawals – The ATM in the current facility is used by a huge number of people (900 per week), and there is nothing in the consultation detailing what will happen to this facility. It is also free for use which is essential and post office payments can be done at it. It is used so often that if not retained, the other machine is likely to run out of cash regularly and many residents will have to go to Durham city to sort out PO payments.

17. Modernisation Issues – The existing, the proposed or an alternative facility could be upgraded to meet modernisation standards and to retain ‘Main’ status.

43 Council Jobs available

Did you know the council currently has 43 jobs advertised including at least 3 apprenticeships?

Take a look here: https://www.northeastjobs.org.uk/default.aspx?page=orghome&orgid=73

 

Post Office Petition

Following on from my earlier post (see below). We have now set up a petition to keep the post office where it is:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/newtonhallpostoffice

Another £400 plus tax cut on cards with Lib Dems

A Liberal Democrat government will make further cuts in Income Tax and reduce National Insurance for millions of workers under manifesto plans announced today.

The party plans to raise the personal allowance to at least £12,500 by the end of next Parliament.

This move would cut income tax for 30m workers and be worth £400 per year to a typical basic rate taxpayer. Read more »

Saving Newton Hall Post Office

We are backing a campaign to keep Newton Hall Post Office in its current location because proposals have been put forward which would see it move to McColls and lose many of its services as well as a serious risk to capacity.

The Post Office should in our opinion keep the existing site and invest in it to provide disability access and modernisation. It would be open on Saturday afternoons and potentially two evenings a week. The McColls despite comments that it would be open longer hours, would have limited services during these hours and some services would not be offered at all. We are working on making it easy for residents to sign a petition which currently has 700 names but has had to be removed from the post office.

Link to Northern Echo website: http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/local/northdurham/11404498.Fighting_to_save_Newton_Hall_post_office/

We have secured a meeting with senior Post Office management next week to put across the views of the local community, and I will add a full list of all our concerns to this website tomorrow, hopefully along with links and downloads to the petition.

LABOUR FORCED TO APOLOGISE OVER CHILDREN’S CENTRES

Labour politicians and the Director of Adult and Children’s services have been forced to apologise after failing to follow correct procedures. Full story on Northern Echo. We had to dig deep to get the information we needed but were helped along by a Labour councillor telling us if we had been members of the Labour Party we would have found out about the report 3 weeks earlier – a clear breach of the council constitution to brief only some and not all councillors.

http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/council/durhamcountycouncil/11379523.Council_apology_over_Labour_children_s_centres_briefings/

 

LABOUR REFUSES TO PAY STAFF A LIVING WAGE

http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/11361115.Lib_Dem_bid_to_force_Living_Wage_fails/

Labour, aided by a couple of Tories today refused to agree to pay the living wage. The Northern Echo explains it in pretty accurate details.

Fortunately from September, residents can record council meetings, so the true depths of Labour incompetence will be visible to all!

MAJOR SEWAGE UPGRADE WORKS ON NEWTON HALL

Northumbrian Water is to carry out major works lasting up to 6 moths in Newton Hall, to improve capacity and reduce flood risk. As part of these works your Lib Dem councillors have been in discussions, and new play facilities are to be provided after the works have been completed, at Salisbury Road where a large holding tank is to be installed underground.

More details on Northern Echo site:  http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/11357062.Work_to_upgrade_sewer_network_due_to_begin_at_Newton_Hall__Durham_City/?ref=var_0

Dryburn Road Set for resurfacing

We have been successful as our local county councillors in securing work to get Blackie Boy Roundabout and Dryburn Road fully resurfaced. The money has come from additional funding provided by the Coalition Government. Work is due to start on 30th August.

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