Residents concerned about the future of their Post Office are urged to attend a public meeting to make their views count.
Stung by the level of opposition to its proposal to uproot the main W12 Post Office from Shepherds Bush Green and site it deep inside the Westfield shopping centre, Post Office Ltd has called a public meeting for next week.
It will be held on Friday 9 December from 1.30pm to 4.30pm at the Shepherds Bush Library in Wood Lane.
Under the current proposal – strongly opposed by Hammersmith & Fulham Council – the main Crown Post Office on Shepherds Bush Green near the old Empire would close.
Anyone wanting to post a letter, apply for a passport or send a parcel would have to make their way into Westfield to a relocated area at the back of WHSmith.
The council has called on Post Office Ltd to listen to reason and maintain the branch in a central, easily accessible ground-floor home.
The move is necessitated by the scheduled redevelopment of the building currently housing the Shepherd Bush Post Office at 65 The Green.
A six-week consultation exercise has already stirred up strong resistance to shifting the Post Office into Westfield… prompting the public meeting.
On Friday, officials will listen to public opinion as part of the consultation.
Views can also be recorded on the Post Office consultation website citing the reference number 020006, but emailed opinions must be lodged by 7 December – two days before the public event.
The council fears that the proposed move will not only make life harder for existing Post Office users, but poses a further threat to the economic wellbeing of Shepherds Bush as a town centre.
It favours siting the Post Office in the W12 Centre, to maintain it as a bustling counterbalance to Westfield.
“Moving the post office into Westfield is a real threat to the long-term economic success of Shepherds Bush town centre,” said Cllr Andrew Jones, H&F Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Regeneration.
“But relocating it to the W12 Centre would make much more sense and would ensure the centre continues to thrive as it looks for new tenants.
“It is vital the residents who would be affected by this change, whether they agree with the council or not, take part in the consultation.”
Local Post Office users have already said that moving the branch to WHSmith in Westfield would make it much harder to visit.
However, siting the branch in the nearby West12 Centre would help keep the retailing health of the south side of Shepherds Bush Green after announcements by both HSBC and Morrison’s that they are leaving the centre.
“It is unthinkable,” said Sylvia Edwards, 50, of Shepherds Bush Road. “It is so much better to come to a proper post office. No one will be able to get into WHSmith – it is so inconvenient.”
Her views were echoed by self-employed Mustafa Sabri, 41, of Sundew Avenue, White City. “I don’t think it’s a very good idea,” he said. “WHSmith seems a bit small.”
And H&F Council’s stance on relocation has been backed by the Hammersmith & Fulham Historic Buildings Group.
“Having a post office located in the rear of the WHSmith in Westfield is not an option for the elderly, partially-sighted or those with mobility problems,” said Vice Chair Annabel Clarke.
“There must be a better solution and we agree that the post office should relocate to the West12 Centre.”
Post office plans
The blueprint for the new service includes five counters – of which four will be open-plan and one a traditional screened position.
Roger Gale, Crown Post Office and WHSmith network general manager, responded: “We will be working with WHSmith to ensure there are sufficiently wide, clear aisles and that there is adequate space for Post Office customers, including wheelchair users, so they can easily access the post office area.”
Mr Gale added that talks with WHSmith included extending the current 10am opening time to 9am, to reflect that offered by the Post Office on The Green.
WHSmith currently operates more than 100 Post Office branches at the back of its stores, with Post Office Ltd announcing eight months ago that it had plans to shift a further 61 branches into the stationery shop’s outlets.
Around 30 would be run directly by the Post Office, with the rest operated as franchises.
Opponents point to difficulties with access in some of the other branches that have already switched to WHSmith, with Post Office users having to climb staircases or navigate narrow, cluttered aisles to reach the service counters.
The WHSmith branch in Westfield is on the ground floor, between Next and Debenhams.
Post Office Ltd says that most of its 11.500 UK Post Offices are already run on an agency or franchise system, and that by moving to WHSmith branches customers have seen service improve, with most open on Saturday afternoons and Sundays.
The Communication Workers Union is against any further handover of Post Office branches to WHSmith.
Assistant secretary Andy Furey said: “It is completely incongruous that WHSmith can run a major Post Office better than the Post Office itself.
“Our members do not wish to work for WHSmith, which has a track record of zero hours contracts and a minimum wage approach to resourcing.
“Crown Post Office workers are professional and dedicated to providing excellent customer service, and [a further transfer] is a kick in the teeth for loyal hard-working individuals who simply want to work for the Post Office while providing a first-class service to the public.”