24 June 2007

Last Post?

The Forest Hill Post Office on Dartmouth Road is to close down and relocate to WH Smith in front of the station. The move is supposed to happen by the end of next summer and is part of a nationwide strategy for creating a “sustainable network of flagship Post Office branches.” But what will it mean for local residents?

Forest Hill Post Office is among fifteen in London, which will be moved into a local WH Smith branch. Mayor Steve Bullock told the FHSoc General Meeting that he was “deeply suspicious” of this proposal and described it as a “straightforward attempt by the Post Office to put commercial interest above public service obligations.” He says he is making his concerns known to Post Office Ltd.

WH Smith, unsurprisingly, insists that in the six locations across the country where this move has already been piloted, it’s been a success with customers welcoming “the pleasant environment, good levels of customer service and convenient locations.” And the Post Office believes this commercial decision makes sense because the two businesses have a lot in common.

But let us put aside for a moment the arguments about whether or not the relocation of post office business into the private sector is a Good Thing or not. There are other very local concerns about moving our Post Office into the WH Smith store. Is the retail space available actually big enough to accommodate a busy post office with long queues? What happens to the site vacated by the Post Office? Will it become yet another gap on our high street?

Of course, the optimistic view is that this could be a great opportunity. WH Smith may decide to redevelop their premises to fully exploit this new line of business. At the same time, money is being directed at Forest Hill Station in coming years to improve accessibility and to make it ready for the ELL.

Perhaps these projects could somehow come together to produce the town centre we’ve all been waiting for – the town centre envisaged by Lewisham Council not so many years ago when it said the station should be relocated to the WHSmith site.
The local councillor, Philip Peake, says the current proposals from the Post Office are short on detail and promises he will be pursuing the issue.

UPDATE: Jim Dowd Lewisham West MP has also organised a Parliamentary petition urging the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to use his powers to ensure that the Post Office does not reduce the level of services currently available to customers under its new partnership agreement with WH Smith.

And, of course, the Forest Hill Society, is on the case!

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