Post Office under fire as plans to move town centre branch to WHSmith are confirmed

Harrogate MP Andrew Jones.
Harrogate MP Andrew Jones.

The Post Office has confirmed that contentious proposals to ‘downgrade’ Harrogate’s Crown branch by moving it into WHSmith, are going ahead.

Harrogate’s Crown Post Office on Cambridge Road, which has disabled access, nearby parking and taxi ranks, will be replaced by a counter in WHSmith by May.

The organisation claims that the move will see the loss of a cash machine, but will allow longer opening hours, including opening on Sundays, for Harrogate customers.

But Harrogate and Knaresborough MP, Andrew Jones, has not welcomed the news.

He said: “This is very disappointing news and I wonder just how seriously the Post Office took the hundreds and hundreds of responses they received from local residents expressing their misgivings.

“As well as customers, particularly the elderly and less able, I am deeply concerned for the staff currently working at the Cambridge Road site.

“All in all, this is a pretty poor decision. It makes poor commercial sense for the Post Office and presents the public with a poorer service in an inferior location.”

A six-week public consultation on the plans was closed just before Christmas.

But earlier this week, Mr Jones called the consultation a ‘sham’ after it was revealed that WHSmith had already submitted a planning application to erect Post Office signs in its Victoria Shopping Centre store, despite no notice of a final decision about whether the plans were going ahead.

As well as this, the stationary retailer had published job adverts for a counter clerk and a Post Office Operations Manager based in Harrogate.

The decision to move ahead with the plans was not officially announced until Wednesday.

Mr Jones said: “It is difficult to support the Post Office’s claims that this was a fair and open consultation.

“It is hard to believe that they hadn’t made their mind up before the consultation began. All the evidence while the consultation was supposed to be ongoing – advertising jobs in the new WHSmith franchise and applying for planning permission for new signs – points to the contrary.

“I am waiting for a response from their Chief Executive about these points although, realistically, I do not think the Post Office will change their plans now. Those plans appear to have been a long time in the making.”

Despite this, the Post Office defended their position.

A Post Office spokesperson said: “This is normal practice, and it is not the case that this pre-empts any final decisions about moving a branch.

“Once a branch goes into consultation, both Post Office and the potential new operator begin all the detailed planning for the move. This includes getting planning permission (which can take several months) and starting the recruitment process.

“Planning permission sought for any branch would only be actioned by the potential new operator if the proposal went ahead, and any recruitment is conditional upon the proposal being approved. The reason this detail planning is done at an early stage, ahead of a final decision, is that we know, should the decision to move the branch be made, it is much better for our staff and the community that the transfer proceeds without any unnecessary delays.”

The current branch will close on May 15 at 5.30pm and the new one will open the next day at 9am.