Harrogate residents and community leaders have expressed shock and outrage at proposals to relocate the town’s main Post Office - along with 40 other branches - into local WHSmiths stores.
Harrogate and Knaresborough’s MP, Andrew Jones, has taken a strong stance against the plans, organising a Westminster Hall debate on the issue with the Minister for Post Offices, Kelly Torhurst MP.
Before the debate, which happened on Tuesday, Harrogate residents’ had raised concerns over access and loss of services, if the Crown Post Office were moved to the first floor of WHSmiths in the Victoria Shopping Centre.
But speaking to the Minister on Tuesday, Mr Jones revealed that WHSmith and Post Office bosses had confirmed the greatest fears.
Mr Jones said: “I did not know how the proposed location in WHSmith would work until I received an email from WH Smith at lunchtime today with significantly more information, followed by a six-page letter from the Post Office a couple of hours ago.
“We now know that the proposal is to locate the post office on the first floor of WH Smith.
“There are lifts, escalators and stairs in the store, and the shopping centre entrance will be flat, but first-floor retailing inevitably has a lower footfall than ground-floor retailing.
“I spent many years in retail before I came to Parliament, so I know that first-floor and ground-floor locations are very different.
“I am sure that the email that I received at lunchtime was trying to help, but in reality it has made my fears worse.”
However, Mr Jones added that the Post Office had ‘at least’ confirmed that all staff in Harrogate’s Crown Post Office team will be transferred across to WHSmiths under TUPE regulations.
He added: “On products and services, the Post Office has confirmed that all existing services will transfer with the location, but that Home Office passport services will not transfer. That is a loss.
“It feels as if the Post Office is in retreat, both physically and in its offer, when the opposite should be happening.”
Mr Jones also raised concerns with the Post Office’s promises of a full public consultation.
He said: “When it first got in touch with me, its email said that ‘any proposed changes will be subject to a public consultation’.
“However, at the all-party group meeting last week, it announced that the franchising decision has already been made and that it is a private commercial matter.
“I am not sure that those two comments are in any way consistent. We need a proper, wide consultation.”