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Helmsley continues to fight ‘ludicrous’ Post Office closure proposals

Helmsley in Business is urging the community to come along to a public meeting on 15th January about the proposed closure of Helmsley Post Office.

The meeting will be held at 6pm at the Town Hall, and has been called by MP Kevin Hollinrake at the request of the Helmsley in Business group, which strongly opposes the suggestion the main Post Office branch should be closed and relocated within the town’s Costcutter as a reduced ‘local’ service. Representatives from the Post Office will be present.

The town is urging people from not just Helmsley, but local villages and communities such as Hawnby, Gilling, Oswaldkirk and Harome to come along to the meeting. Helmsley Post Office serves more than 20 villages in the surrounding area, all of which would have to travel some distance to Thirsk for many services, via the unpredictable Sutton Bank and with no public transport, if the closure goes ahead. It would also mean the relocation of 13 jobs to Thirsk.

Although it has been suggested the current Postmaster chose to leave, forcing the situation, the Helmsley in Business Group is keen to clarify this as misleading. As Andy Furey, of the Communication Workers Union, has been quoted as saying in the national press: “Postmasters are being told if they refuse the new business model they will be paid off, closed down and the franchise given to another store in the area. At the end of the day this is public money being used to close post offices and downgrade the network.”

Helmsley in Business has several issues with the proposed closure – with one of the main concerns around access. The Costcutter building has a set of steep steps to enter it from the main road, which are unsuitable for many with disabilities or pushchairs. The second entrance would involve a much longer walk around the back of the building, on a shared access, uneven track which has no lighting and often floods in bad weather because of potholes. There is no parking at the rear of the building, so the length of walk from the nearest car park may also be prohibitive for those with mobility issues.


Helmsley Post Office

A second issue is around clarity and honesty regarding exactly which services will remain, with claims that questions to the Post Office are met with vague responses and no guarantees.

Lizzie Rohan, chairman of the Helmsley in Business group and owner of No. 54 B&B, explains: “The Post Office has provided a tick sheet of services that will continue – and at face value it might not look too bad. But when you try and dig deeper it all becomes a bit murky. So, for example, it says personal banking will remain. And yet, we know the new service would not include certain services. Foreign currency will be limited and there will be restrictions on global deliveries which could be an issue for both visitors, overseas workers based in the town and businesses. There will also be limited cash and change available, which is definitely an issue for businesses. In fact, we ran an informal survey of customers in our Post Office across three days and we found that as many as 20 of them per day wouldn’t have been able to conduct their transaction in the new proposed ‘local’ Post Office.

“Another concern is what guarantee we’d have that the more limited service would even continue. With just three months notice, Costcutter might decide it’s not working for them, or may decide to close altogether, and then we’d be left with nothing at all.”

The group also raises security as an issue. The current Post Office had a fully secure fortress counter installed after a robbery in 2003. The new premises would have an open counter – and Costcutter itself has been a previous victim of a break in. An open counter also provides little privacy for customers conducting transactions, leaving them vulnerable.

The proposed model is the same as one in use in Thornton-le-dale Post Office and is described by the Post Office as being for “smaller less busy locations” – which the group argues Helmsley most definitely is not.

Lizzie Rohan continues: “If this closure goes ahead there is no doubt this will have a hugely detrimental impact on Helmsley as a town. We’re not being dramatic saying businesses could close because of it. These are services many of the 150+businesses in the town and surrounding area rely on – along with thousands of local residents. Plus if people aren’t coming into Helmsley to use the Post Office, we’re effectively sending our shoppers to Thirsk to spend their money there! It’s ludicrous that as winners of the Great British High Street Award last month – sponsored by none other than the Post Office – we’re in this situation. Our current Post Master would happily stay on if the situation remained as it is, so there is a viable option. We just urge everyone to come along to this public meeting on 15th and also to make their opinions known by writing or emailing the Post Office, which allows you to explain your reasoning much more that the online form they provide. Please everyone – we need you!”

To find out more, as well as attending the meeting on 15th January, an information stand will be held by the Helmsley in Business group in the Market Place on 15th and 29th January for interested parties to pop along to.

The consultation closes on 8th February. People can submit their objection in writing via email or post to:
Post Office National Consultation Team
PO Box 2060
WD18 8ZW
Email: consultation@postoffice.co.uk