Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Village post office to close despite £160m rescue fund

THE post office in Nettlebed is to close.

The counter at the Spar shop at the BP petrol station off Port Hill will cease to exist from the end of February.

That will be almost exactly two years after it relocated from the church hall in High Street.

Owner MRH Retail, which runs 450 petrol stations across the country, says the counter service is no longer viable.

The Post Office say it is still “committed” to providing a service in the village.

In recent years the post office counters in Woodcote, Checkendon and Stoke Row have all closed.

The Nettlebed closure was discovered by parish council vice-chairman Barbara Lewis and her husband Malcolm who contacted the Post Office after hearing rumours of the closure.

Mr Lewis, of Pearces Meadow, Nettlebed, said: “It’s a useful facility and we’re anxious about losing it. 

“Other counters around the area have closed so it has been used by people from all over. The fact there is lots of parking outside makes it easy to use.

“The Post Office said it would try to find alternative premises but, frankly, there aren’t any. 

“The reason it closed at the church hall in the first place was that the subsidy had been taken away, which meant it was unviable for the previous person running it.

“At the time the Post Office wanted it to be open all day and on Sundays.”

The counter extended its opening times by 66 hours a week when the move took place, so that it is open 6am to 10pm every day.

In addition, a marked pedestrian walkway from the pavement to the shop entrance was created.

Mr Lewis said: “The move has been successful. I’ve spoken to the staff and they were surprised about the closure. They had received training from the Post Office and were happy with how it had been performing.”

The nearest post offices are in Henley and Sonning Common, six miles and five miles away respectively.

Councillor David Nimmo Smith, who represents Nettlebed on South Oxfordshire District Council, said he was disappointed by the closure as the Government had announced only last week a £160million fund to help keep rural post offices open. This money will be distributed between April next year and March 2021.

He said: “We are trying to keep rural communities sustainable by keeping post offices and community stores open.

“This post office has only been open two years and they should have known the kind of market they were going into. I don’t think the market will have changed.

“I’m disappointed we are in this position. There appears to be money available but for whatever reason they have decided to close this branch.”

Henley MP John Howell is to discuss the issue with Laura Tarling, public affairs manager for the Post Office, and hopes to meet MRH.

He said: “I’m committed to helping the village to find a replacement post office or service. With the number of elderly people that live in Nettlebed, for them to be without a post office would be ridiculous.”

A Post Office spokeswoman said: “The postmaster for Nettlebed has resigned and the branch is due to close in February. The date has not yet been confirmed.

“We understand and appreciate how much communities rely on our services. We would like to assure customers that the Post Office is committed to providing a post office service in Nettlebed and we are working hard to ensure this.”

A spokeswoman for MRH said: “Having explored all options, we can confirm that we have taken the difficult decision to close the post office at our Nettlebed site in February.

“We apologise for the inconvenience that this closure may cause and we continue to be extremely grateful to our customers who shop with us and use our site.”

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