Farnham Post Office is currently located at 107 West Street, Farnham. The Post Office is consulting on proposals to relocate to within the curtilage of WH Smith at 14, The Borough, Farnham. The consultation process started on 23 January and will close on 6 March. There is understandably much local interest and concern about the proposed move.
We have published the consultation on the council’s website, circulated details to all Farnham ward members and are encouraging residents and businesses to respond to the consultation. The Post Office has been invited to attend Community Wellbeing Overview & Scrutiny Committee on 19 February but if they are unable to attend a special meeting could be arranged.
That the Committee responds to the consultation after its meeting, and that a separate response is sent from the Portfolio Holder.
The Committee received a report outlining the consultation on proposals to relocate Farnham Post Office within the curtilage of WH Smith at 14, The Borough, Farnham. The consultation period would end on 6 March and the Committee was asked for its view in order for a response to be sent to the consultation.
Mark Gibson, the Post Office External Affairs Manager, was present to outline the proposal and respond to any questions.
Mark gave some background to the current Post Office service and reported that 5 years ago the Post Office had started a process of transformation to enable the business to develop with the times, introduce new services and extend opening times. Working with WH Smith allowed the Post Office to retain a presence on the high street. The Committee was assured that, despite perceptions, the move was not a done deal and the PO wanted their feedback and that of the public. There would be a consultation event the following week.
Councillor Beaman asked how many other locations the Post Office had considered in the high street, as WH Smith was on a very narrow pathway where there was a lot of traffic. Mark responded that the PO understood the importance of a post office in the community and was aware of the petition. The PO wanted to go into partnership with a Farnham retailer which was a good fit; they had a number of partnerships with WH Smith in other locations and had confidence in the operating model.
The existing location of the post office in Farnham was leased from the Royal Mail, and the PO was not aware of the long-term plans for the premises.
Councillor Hodge asked about the access, noting it was a restrictive part of town with heavy traffic, and asked if there was any intention of improving the entrance to the store. Mark responded that it would be difficult because of the infrastructure of the building, but that this was no different for all the shops along that route. Inside they were making a number of changes to improve access to the post office from the shop entrance.
Councillor Else asked about the services currently provided, and whether the same level of service would be provided after it moved. Mark confirmed that there would be no change to the services offered, except for the loss of the ATM. There would be an increased focus on self service, with two machines available; but the PO did still see the need to have face to face interaction with customers.
Councillor Wheatley raised her concerns about the robustness of the partnership with WH Smith, citing the Godalming post office which had been situated in the bookshop (Waterstones) but had been required to move. Mark responded that it was impossible to predict what would happen on the high street over the next five years; however, they were confident that the partnership with WH Smith was viable. Councillor Wheatley asked what would happen to the current post office staff. Mark advised that they would have the opportunity to transfer to the new location, be redeployed, or to leave with a service package.
In response to Councillor James’ question about the timing of the relocation, Mark reiterated that the post office was not closing and the service was not being down graded. The relocation and provision of services from within WH Smith would secure the future of the post office on the high street.
Councillor Ellis was concerned whether a similar approach might be taken to providing post office services in Cranleigh. Mark was not able to comment specifically on any plans for Cranleigh, but there was a general plan to move away from directly operated post offices.
Councillor Pritchard asked what had prompted the move, and what would happen to the sorting office. Mark responded that the building was owned by Royal Mail and the post office premises were leased from the Royal Mail. The move was to secure a financially sustainable location for the business.
In response to the Chairman, Mark confirmed that the would be continuity of service during the move to WH Smith. The Chairman was pleased for this assurance but was disappointed that consideration had not been given to other locations for the service, such as Elphicks.
Councillor Edwards, as Portfolio Holder for Economic Development, felt that there was a sound business case for the move; however, there were some genuine concerns about the location and access for customers.
The Committee AGREED that a letter should be sent expressing regret that this was happening, but they were pleased that the post office was not closing and that there would be a continuation of service. There was concern about the suitability of the location of WH Smith, the layout/accessibility inside and that consideration should be given to whether there were other locations where it could be better suited or if they could make better use of the current space. It was agreed that the letter should come from the Chief Executive and expressing concern, not just for Farnham Post Office but for Post Offices through out the Waverley.