Diary of a Sutton Councillor

Wallington Post Office move to WH Smiths confirmed

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I have just now received a letter from the Post Office advising that following the consultation the move will go ahead exactly as specified.

At our public meeting on 20th November with the CWU and Tom Brake we learnt that residents were confused by the consultation which was not about whether the Wallington Crown branch should be taken over by WH Smiths, but about how it should be configured in its new location. The majority of residents who have contacted us or attended the meeting were concerned about how the current service would fit into what is already a cramped WH Smith store, without compromising the service offer. There were concerns about queues and accessibility.

At last night’s Strategy & Resources Committee we had two representatives of the Post Office, and Ian Ward from the CWU, to talk about the proposed changes to the Post Office branches throughout the borough, and in particular the St Nicholas Centre proposed closure – although this is now being described as a ‘merger’ into the Grove Road branch. Members, including myself, expressed concerns that the changes were ‘a done deal’ and that considerations of improving customer service were more of an excuse, rather than being evidenced by any real drive to better meet customers’ needs. This came out when the Post Office claimed that waiting times would be improved by the changes, only for it to be revealed under questioning that they didn’t keep any record of waiting times, so there was no way they could compare waiting times before & after the changes, making this a hollow claim.

The Post Office representative did respond to my offer to meet with council officers so that we could explore ways in which we might work together to help maintain the standard of service from the Post Office in Sutton, however I am worried that the moves towards closure of the St Nicholas Centre branch were already too far progressed for them to think about more innovative solutions, just as we found with the Wallington branch. I expressed regret that they had not approached council members before changes were determined, as this would have been a better time to explore the options.

As far as the Wallington branch is concerned, we are pleased that we will still have a Post Office in a prominent location within the district centre, which is better than losing it altogether, however we still have concerns that the service offer will be less than at present, and accessibility will be poor. We would be pleased to be proved wrong. The franchise arrangement also offers less certainty over the future of the branch as it will now be under the control of WH Smiths.

The text of the letter advising of the changes is shown below:

Wallington Crown Post Office® branch
1-2 Ross Parade, Wallington, SM6 8QL
Decision – move to new premises & branch modernisation
I’m writing to confirm that we will be proceeding with our proposal to move the above Post Office branch to WHSmith, 92 Woodcote Road, Wallington, SM6 0NG, where it will be operated by WHSmith High Street Limited.
The move is part of the transformation and modernisation of the Post Office network, helping to create a network of viable and sustainable branches that is no longer reliant on Government funding.
We received a number of comments and over 20 pre-printed comment cards from customers and local representatives during the local public consultation period. We also held a customer forum at a local venue, to tell customers about our plans and answer any questions. In addition, prior to consultation, we received a letter from the local MP, enclosing a number of comments from his constituents, objecting to our plans to look for a third party retailer to operate Wallington branch. The main feedback related to space, possible congestion and the internal steps inside the WHSmith store. Comments were also made about car parking, particularly for disabled drivers and the distance to the new site which is uphill with a main road to cross. Other feedback supported our plans, saying that the new location was more central, closer to bus stops and car parks and the longer opening hours would be advantageous. All of the feedback helped me to understand customers’ concerns and to make sure that all such information was taken into account before finalising our plans.
As part of the consultation process, Post Office Ltd meets with Consumer Futures, the statutory consumer watchdog for the Post Office network, to review all the consultation responses and to ensure all relevant feedback is taken into account in finalising our plans.
We know that the Post Office plays an important part in the lives of customers, including our elderly and disabled customers and we want to make our services as accessible as possible.
I am pleased to confirm that customer access both into and within the store will be compliant with Post Office Limited’s own standards of accessibility and all applicable legislation.
Externally the store front will have a projecting Post Office sign, a service menu and opening hours board and Post Office fascia. There are two entrances to the store; the right hand door is already automated and the left hand door which will be nearest the Post Office area will be automated before the new branch opens. The Post Office will be at the back of the store to the left hand side and signage will be displayed at the entrance on that side along with directional signage inside the store. This will provide a clear pathway from the entrance door through the store to the Post Office area, so that customers can find the Post Office without difficulty. This will include a Post Office logo on the entrance door, overhead signage through the store and fascia signage for the Post Office itself. Customers using the left hand entrance will not need to negotiate the two internal steps.
The entrance and shopping aisles will be kept free of obstructions, existing fixtures and fittings, including retail tills and free standing marketing displays will be removed or repositioned as needed, helping customers move easily through the store to the Post Office and to provide sufficient space and turning circles for wheelchair users.
WHSmith will carry out works in the store to fit out a dedicated Post Office area, which will be built to Post Office specifications. Post Office accessibility standards will also be applied to that area of the store – this includes requirements as to the width of the counter and queuing area, with relevant turning/exit spaces. There will be adequate space for people to wait for service and customer seating will be provided. The Post Office counter will be purpose built to Post Office specifications, with low level writing counters and hearing loops also available. Lighting in the Post Office area will be improved to meet industry standards, providing the best levels of lighting for customers to carry out their business and for those working in the Post Office.
The new branch will have one traditional style, floor to ceiling screened serving positions and three open plan positions. Open plan serving positions are successfully used across our Post Office network, as an alternative to the more traditional style positions. There is still a partitioned screen but this is lower, helping to provide for a more personal service and discreet conversations when needed. To help customers know about our great range of financial products, including savings and insurances, a Financial Specialist will be on hand to talk to customers on an individual basis, in a private consultation room.
In respect of a post box, the built-in wall post boxes at the current branch will be closed once the building is vacated, however there is a post box in the High Street approximately 30 metres from the WHSmith store.
WHSmith have satisfied us that they are equally as committed to delivering excellent customer service as we are. Over recent years WHSmith has seen a steady improvement in performance and waiting times in its Post Office branches, with service standards now comparable to our Crown branches. We are satisfied that any person employed to work in Wallington Post Office will be trained to the highest Post Office standards, which includes classroom and on-site training. And it doesn’t stop there. Just as with branches we run ourselves, staff will receive on-going training on products and services. This may be through face to face training, printed hand-outs or a mandatory electronic tutorial, as well as regular internal communications on general operational and service related matters. Post Office area managers will work with WHSmith and the branch team to provide support, in the same way they already do in existing Post Office branches operated by WHSmith and our Crown branches.
In respect of people working at the existing branch, we have a strong track record of supporting our people through change. There will be no compulsory redundancies and our staff have several options available to them. We will do all that we can to find a solution that works for each individual – whether that is to transfer to WHSmith under TUPE (the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment) regulations and which they have the legal right to do; to look for redeployment elsewhere in the Post Office; or they may wish to leave the business and we have agreed terms in place to manage that process.
Although the Post Office is not responsible for the provision of public parking or any local traffic restrictions/regulations, these are some of the local factors that we take into account when considering the location of any new premises. To this end, when developing our proposal, we visited the area to find out what public parking is available, including disabled spaces, as well as local bus services and to take account of any specific local road traffic related matters. A number of people have commented on car parking and that there is a main road to cross, if travelling from the current post office to the new location, and this is one of the specific areas that have been further reviewed with Consumer Futures.
I can confirm that there is time-restricted roadside parking in Woodcote Road and the Library car park is approximately 100 metres away with about 100 spaces and 3 disabled bays. There are loading bays on the same side of the road approximately 10 metres from WHSmith and 3 disabled street bays on the opposite side of the road. I acknowledge the route to the new branch is uphill, however the WHSmith store is located close to many other High Street retailers, so customers are likely to be visiting this area for their other shopping requirement. I can also confirm that there is a pedestrian crossing directly outside the WHSmith store and the nearest bus stop is approximately 30 metres away.
It would be fair to say that with any change of location there may be some customers who are more inconvenienced than others, whether they have to walk a little further or use a different bus stop,. Equally, there may be other customers will find the new location easier to get to. Having reviewed these matters further, I remain confident that following the move the new branch will remain accessible for customers.
I have carefully considered my original proposal and the feedback received during the public consultation period. I am confident that the new branch will be suitably located and that WHSmith will continue to meet customer needs and deliver an excellent service, whilst helping to provide future sustainability for the branch and maintaining a Post Office presence in Wallington. The change also means that customers will benefit from longer opening hours, including Saturday afternoon and Sunday opening giving customers more flexibility to use our services at times that suit them better.
The current branch will close at 17:30 on Wednesday 19 February 2014, with the new branch opening at 09:00 on Thursday 20 February 2014. Further details of the new branch are provided at the end of this letter.
You can also find a copy of this letter on our website at postofficeviews.co.uk. When entering the website you will be asked to enter the code for this branch: 017013.
This change to the Post Office network is being carried out in accordance with the Code of Practice for changes to the network, as agreed with Consumer Futures the national consumer organisation. A full copy of the Code of Practice is available on our website at http://www.postoffice.co.uk/transforming-post-office, or by contacting us at the address provided at the end of this letter.
Yours faithfully
Sally Buchanan
Franchise Project Manager

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December 17, 2013 - Posted by | Information | ,

2 Comments »

  1. Hello Jayne,
    is there anything on the horizon regarding Ross parade post office building at all which has been empty for awhile now. I have heard conflicting statements that it is going to be a shop of some sort. And is the building a listed one which cannot be pulled down. Your answers to my questions would be appreciated if you can answer them please.

    thank you Carole Heath

    Comment by Carole Heath | June 16, 2015 | Reply

    • Hi Carole

      The building isn’t listed so has no protection. I am not aware of any plans for the shop area however the council is only notified if a planning application is submitted either for changes to the external building, or change of use class, or if it needs a licence. There was a planning application granted recently to convert the offices above to residential use, but there is no planning application in for the shop area at present.

      Comment by jaynemccoy | June 22, 2015 | Reply


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