Three East Cambridgeshire Post Offices To Be Axed

PUBLISHED: 11:37 17 September 2008 | UPDATED: 10:32 04 May 2010

Harpal Atwal with councillor Anna Bailey

Harpal Atwal with councillor Anna Bailey

ALL three Post Offices in East Cambridgeshire earmarked for closure will be axed. The shock decision means some people will be left without local services, and the shops they are housed in also face an uncertain future. Little Downham Post Office, St Joh

ALL three Post Offices in East Cambridgeshire earmarked for closure will be axed.

The shock decision means some people will be left without local services, and the shops they are housed in also face an uncertain future.

Little Downham Post Office, St John's Road in Ely, and Soham Hall Street Post Office will close, and in some cases as soon as November. Members of the public and post office staff who fought hard to keep them open, have been left bitterly disappointed and have spoken out about the flawed consultation process.

When the Ely Standard contacted One Stop Shop managers at the St John's Road Post Office on Tuesday evening they had not even been told what was happening. Little e Downham postmistress Harpal Atwal was asked to run an "outreach" service - for twice as many hours as she already works but only 10 per cent of her current pay.

"Migrating customers" as the Post Office calls them - from villages and hamlets as far away as Hale Fen and Pymoor - will be forced to descend on the already congested High Street Post Office in Ely - and for elderly residents without a car they will have almost no way of getting there - as the Pymoor-Little Downham-Ely bus service is likely to be axed in January," said Mrs Atwal.

St John's Road Post Office will remain open until extra staff and better queuing facilities are added to the Ely High Street branch - leaving staff with the knowledge that they will lose their jobs but with no idea of when they will finally have to go.

Anna Bailey, district councillor for Little Downham, said she was upset that the Post Office had not listened to residents' points of view.

"I'm so shocked," she said.

"I thought we had put some really good arguments forward. Under the government's criteria you shouldn't close a post office where it is the only shop left in the village - and it is - apart from the butcher, so I was really surprised when I heard. They haven't taken into account the lack of alternatives - the Government is always preaching sustainability and asking us to create sustainable communities, but it is all words - they do everything they can to undermine it."

Soham Hall Street postmaster Saj Munir said: "I'm not really happy about it but I can't say anything - my hands are tied. The shop will stay open for a year and I will look at things again after that." He added that he was relying on trade from housing developments at the northern end of Soham to continue.

Little Downham postmistress Harpal Atwal and Anna Bailey are furious about the round of closures announced yesterday (Wednesday).

Devastated post mistress Harpal Atwal called the consultation process "a farce." It was not a case of third time lucky for the Little Downham resident, who has fought closure twice during her 14-year tenure. She gathered hundreds of people to the branch, including MP Malcolm Moss, district councillor Anna Bailey and prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate Stephen Barclay.

"I'm obviously very disappointed," she said. "It now leaves the shop in danger and we are the only shop in the village except the butcher and the hairdressers. The most important thing is that people use our shop and don't drive into Ely - it leaves the village with nothing - and we are already one of the most deprived areas for services in the country."

Mrs Atwal said there was no reason to think that a mobile service - which is likely to replace the post office by November for just 10-15 hours a week - would be well-used.

"It will be parked on a corner by the village hall which is dangerous for people that are queuing. Do you think pensioners, who sometimes have to lean on the counter they are so weak, and young mums with their prams and people with heavy parcels are going to queue there? The contract for the mobile service is only for 10 weeks so if people aren't using it they will axe that as well."

As far as her own livelihood is concerned, Mrs Atwal will continue to run the shop, and is to receive compensation, but she called it a "drop in the ocean."

"It wouldn't pay for you to move house, build a new life or learn new skills," she said. "I have been doing this for 14 years."

Also likely to be axed is Little Downham's Thursday bus service, which will leave residents of nearby Wardy Hill and Pymoor without public transport to get to Ely High Street post office.

Little Downham Post Office is used by residents in smaller villages like Pymoor, Oxlode and even Hale Fen, who have no easy access to shops and services in their remote Fen homes, no public transport, and will now be forced to use the crowded Ely High Street branch and drive into the city, causing extra congestion.

When the Ely Standard contacted the St John's Road Post Office in Ely - officer in charge Traceyanne Devine said she had not heard from her employer and was desperate to find out her future after an anxious three-month wait. "I will probably find out from the paper first, like last time - I only knew we were up for closure then. No one bothered to phone me."

"We will be offered compensation, but does that compensate for standing here every day being asked by people 'are you going,' 'are you going?'", added Mrs Devine. "I'm fed up to the back teeth of it. And if we are going I want a definite date for when we are going to close - they have been keeping us on a string for long enough""

Mrs Atwal thanked her MP Malcolm Moss, councillors and residents for their support - especially those who protested outside Ely Post Office. "It just goes to show the government don't listen to reason," she added.

Elsewhere in the county - six post offices are to be closed in Huntingdonshire, but Great Gransden has been saved, and in Fenland, four are to go - in March, Benwick, Wisbech and Christchurch.

Photos: HELEN DRAKE.

8725HDHD0908. Little Downham postmistress Harpal Atwal and Anna Bailey are furious about the round of closures announced yesterday (Wednesday).

4501HD0708. St John's Post Office in Ely failed to weather the storm and will close as soon as the High Street Post Office is updated.

4503HD0708. Officer in charge of St John's Post Office Traceyanne Devine is set to lose her job, alongside daughter Portia and clerk Julie Terry - but they were not told in advance.

4512HD708. Soham Conservative county councillor John Powley, pictured with Hall Street Post Office's Saj Munir, wrote letters of objection to Post Office Ltd, as did his Liberal Democrat colleague Judy Broadway.

Photos: HELEN DRAKE

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