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Saturday, 27 September 2008

Letter from Community Council objecting to PO closure

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13/5 Spottiswoode Street

Edinburgh EH9 1EP

0131 229 8024

23 September 2008

Email: annelaird@freenet.co.uk

RESPONSE TO CONSULTATION ON CLOSURE OF WARRENDER PARK ROAD POST OFFICE EDINBURGH

The Marchmont and Sciennes Community Council strongly oppose the closure of the above post office. Aspects of your Branch Access Report were wrong and you have not carried out a sufficiently thorough inspection of the site or the alternatives which you are required to do and which you undertake to do in your Frequently Asked Questions. In order to address these issues we have looked closely at the alternatives and carried out our own consultation process by interviewing 1073 customers during the week 16 September to 22 September. This of course is less than the customers who used the Branch as we did not have the manpower to interview all customers. This response is a summation of our findings.

1 The errors in regard to Warrender Park Road Post Office.

(a) Ease of Access. There is a fundamental error here. This post office has very efficient access arrangements which work well and are frequently used. There is a bell easily reached from a wheelchair and, where necessary, the postmaster answers immediately and assists. Wheel chairs and double buggies gain easy entry. Planning Permission and grant has been obtained to ramp the step. The severely disabled who used the post office do so for all their business. The majority of the elderly and those who were disabled either walked but could not manage buses or came by car because of the ease of parking and ease of access. All in this group are extremely concerned and do not know how they are going to manage to go elsewhere for reasons explained below. Around 20% of users fell into this category.

(b) Parking. There is a parking bay immediately outside the post office as well as a lot of available parking within 20-50 yards. This is readily available parking. Our consultation showed that a number of disabled, elderly or business people who come by car use this post office because of the ease of parking and could not use others.

(c) Additional Services The Photocopying service was used regularly during the consultation period but this is not mentioned in your report.

(d) Proximity to ATM - As well as the ATM next door there is full banking service available within 125 yards.

(e) Additional retail environment. You have seriously misrepresented this. There is a plethora of shops and businesses nearby including supermarket food shops of all kinds chemist optician as well as cafes and takeaways solicitors and other businesses. You appear only to have inspected the area within 25 feet when the post office is in fact part of a shopping area which is recognized by the City of Edinburgh Council as a shopping centre of importance. I enclose a booklet “Out and About in Marchmont and Sciennes” sponsored by the Council detailing just how many shops and services are available. This is an integral part of the response and the contents of the booklet should be noted for consideration. The Post office is used by the businesses ( on one day 25% of the customers were business users who would be seriously disadvantaged by the closure).

(f) You have noted the longer opening hours but you should note also that no other post office in Edinburgh has Saturday opening until 7.30 pm. I will deal with the significance of this later.

(g) Our consultation process showed that over 85% of users of the Post Office walked to the post office (some with great difficulty and could certainly not reach another post office) and normally did so while using other businesses/shops in the area. Users are local and used ALL the facilities of Marchmont of which the post office is an integral part.

(h) This is a Parcel Force pick up point. On Saturday 20 there were 20 parcels awaiting pick up. Most of the people who pick up the parcel do not have transport and use the Saturday afternoon opening to do this.

(i) I note also from you’re your report that Marchmont Post Office is more efficient than its rivals. They deal with at a maximum 750 customer sessions per week for each serving position while the others average a maximum of 600-650. Is efficiency discounted in this process?

The report you have produced downgrades Warrender Park Post office in relation to the alternatives. In contrast you appear not to have recognized problems in relation to the other post offices. These are significant and are as follows:

2 Pertinent facts and inaccuracies in regard to alternative Post Offices:

(a) Bruntsfield This is not served by a bus from Marchmont. The walk is uphill and over treacherous slippery paths in winter. Parking is at a premium on the busy junction and it would be difficult for a blue badge holder to park immediately outside the post office. Our survey showed a lack of empty parking spaces and the configuration of roads makes it very difficult to drive round to find a space. Disabled or elderly would have to park on a “Loading area” which was also full at the time of our survey. One Bruntsfield business used the Warrender Post Office after 5 on Saturday to post 4-5 very large boxes. She cannot park near Bruntsfied and it is too far to walk with large boxes so Marchmont is her “local”and she uses it regularly.

The owner of Bruntsfield was granted Planning Permission for change of use to a restaurant and to adapt much smaller premises as the post office. This PO certainly could not cope with an increase in customers. I enclose a copy of the planning permission and also some of the complaint letters which neighbours made showing that there is tension in the neighbourhood in regard to the sub postmaster’s behaviour. We have been told that there are official complaints on his behaviour to customers and we were told on more than one occasion during our consultation he behaved rudely to customers. I understand that the level of service is not supposed to be important Why was the proposed downgrading of this post office and the obvious problems with parking and lack of public transport not of significance when considering which PO to close.

(b) Tollcross This is a major failing in the report. You have failed to note that although there is potentially easy access through double doors, one of those doors remains shut and blocked by a photocopier. There is no ease of access to the shop for a person in a wheelchair or a person with a double buggy. We have been advised that customers sometimes queue for around 45 minutes. Scottish Technical Standards for non-domestic buildings prescribe occupancy load factors for rooms and spaces without fixed seating. See Regulation 2.9.2. The floor space in Tollcross is not suitable for numbers greater than 10 people in terms of these regulations and this does not take into account the “shopping” area which sits alongside the post office counter. How will this post office cope with any extra customers?

The post office is reached over very hilly terrain. The paths are often slippery and treacherous in winter and the ground exposed. As state above over 85% of customers using Warrender PO walk. Of those who are fit enough to do so a large number work in the area and do not have not time to walk further during their break from work. This will affect staff from the Royal Hospital for Sick Children and Carers in the Residential Homes. Many of the community (over 52%) do not own cars and if they did so could not park nearby. The bus service is half hourly and is under threat. You have failed to take into account that although the bus stop on the south side is only 50 yards from the post office to get to the return bus stop involves a walk of three to four times that distance. The relevant crossing points are at least 150 yards from the stop.

Parking is a problem in that area and there is certainly no adjacent parking. No disabled person could park outside the post office. It is next to a busy junction and it would be hazardous for a disabled driver to alight into the junction traffic. Our survey of parking found that the nearest parking at least 70 yards away and busy. Other parking is across a busy road or over 100 yards away.

We have not done a survey of parking at other post offices but from local knowledge there is no ease of parking. Disabled access in other post offices is also more difficult. Other Post Offices nearby have similar access and parking problems. You appear to have carried out a very superficial survey of ease access to these post offices.

3 The most disturbing part of your report is that it fails to recognize whom the post office serves.

(a) By far the most important omission is the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. This is one of the leading hospitals for sick children in Scotland and their patients come from all over Scotland accompanied by their parents and often other siblings. They stay for weeks and months in accommodation in the hospital. The Family Support Unit in the hospital prepares and distributes a booklet (copy enclosed) which directs parents to the Marchmont area for all their needs. This is accompanied by the “Out and About in Marchmont and Sciennes” booklet referred to above. In addition staff from the hospital who work unsocial hours use the post office on a regular basis. Remarks from the staff interviewed in our consultation made it clear that they do not have time to go elsewhere and did not know how they would cope with their post office business. The hospital needs this post office both for displaced parents of ill children and for the staff.

(b) You have seriously underestimated the needs of the older members of our community. There are 2 Sheltered Housing complexes in the area. Homeross House has 137 apartments, some with double occupancy and Homeroyal House has 54 apartments. Having consulted with the wardens of these flats we noted that promoting independence was important to the occupants and accorded with Government guidelines for independent living. Residents are now frequently into their 90s and beyond. When they become too infirm to walk their carers run errands for them. In addition there is an alarmed retirement home for 31 flats in Meadow Place and a home for the elderly being refurbished in Chalmers Crescent. One of the principal reasons for these retiral homes being where they are is because of the facilities available within easy walking distance.

Our consultation showed that while a number of these residents are able to conduct their own business affairs and shop in the area (shops in the area deliver goods where required), they will lose their ability to conduct any post office business if the post office is closed. They cannot walk longer distances or travel on buses easily or wait for extended times at the alternative PO. Those few with cars would find it extremely difficult to park. The residents of these homes will have their independence severely reduced by the closure of Warrender PO. You will have noted from the public meeting the concern of this group of people who made a huge effort to get to the meeting because they were so worried about how they would cope with closure.

3 25% of the users use it for business purposes. The impact on businesses will be substantial. Business people cannot leave their business unattended for long and employees have restricted breaks. As well as wasting time and money for these people the last closure resulted in a reduction of turnover for adjacent businesses as people has less reason to organize shopping trips to coincide with their post office business. The greengrocers at the top of Marchmont Road saw a marked drop in business on the closure of the last post office. The regular business customers we identified were Grange Medical Centre, Currie Gilmour solicitors, Bohemia who regularly use the post office for parcel collection and delivery. We also identified a number of people who work from home and who regularly post parcels and goods. All business do not have the time to walk to the nearest post office. They are also reluctant to use a car which will not save much time since parking is scarce and queques long.

(c) There is a University Residence housing 105 1st year students within 50 yards of the Post Office who use the post office regularly to collect goods and parcels. They are particularly reliant on Saturday afternoon opening because of their commitments through the week and the ability to collect parcels with ease from the post office. There are also a sizeable number of foreign students who reported coming into the post office two or three times a week as they completed forms required by foreign students and kept contact with home

(d) This is an area of high population density. There is low car use and ownership in the area.Most parents interviewed complained of having to walk so much further with young children. One explained just how difficult it was even with older children who could not be left to access anywhere further away. Workers in the area are used to being able to “pop out” when the shop or business is quiet for 10 or 15 minutes but could not do so if they had to walk further. People who work all week find it difficult to access post offices near their work or do not have the time to spend quequing there. Saturday afternoon opening is very important to them. Our population is increasingly elderly and a number of older people interviewed lived in the flats and dreaded the thought of having to rely on bus travel to get to another post office.

Conclusion

As a Community Council we started on the campaign because we were aware that the post office was well used by local people and thought it an important service for our community. Our consultation process has confirmed that it is an essential service. The people who rely on the service given cannot go elsewhere and are in despair. We heard remarks such as “Killer” from a severely disabled man and “Nightmare” from a business user. These were far from isolated comments.

Your survey has completely underestimated the ease of access to and use by businesses and residents of this post office. What is worse you have completely misconstrued ease of access to other post offices in the area. There is low car use in the area. Residents walk and use local services. This is particularly true of our growing elderly population. The extra time it takes to walk backwards and forwards to alternatives is too great for even the fit in the community – for those with any disability it is an impossibility. Combine this with the difficulty in parking and you do have a nightmare situation for many.

Please do not close our Post Office. Our Post Office is Vital to this community.

Marchmont and Sciennes Community Council.

Susie Agnew Chair

Anne Laird ViceChair

Sarah Marchbank Treasurer

Alastair Philp Neighbourhood Partnership

Susanna Lacey Secretary

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