By Matt Jarram, Local Democracy Reporter
Stapleford Town Council is weighing up its options to bring back a closed Post Office which has served the local community for years.
Councillors met on Friday, July 29, to examine the options on the table to ensure the facility continues in the town.
The council heard how a temporary postmaster and Post Office were installed on the high street following its closure last year, but the current postmaster has now resigned without a replacement.
This has meant that the post office on Derby Road closed on July 19 this year.
The town council has no direct powers to provide a Post Office for the community, but it has a couple of options it could consider.
These include buying a premise to site a Post Office and keep the rent low for a private or community run franchise; offer part of the Carnegie Civic Centre for a private or community run franchise, seek to run the Post Office itself or do nothing.
A report for the meeting said the council does not currently have a sufficient reserve to put towards ‘buying a premise for a private or community run franchise’ but it could take out a loan to do this.
The Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) can supply favourable terms and the spread of the loan repayments can be achieved over many years to reduce the impact.
However, the council said whilst this would be “a relatively easy option to achieve”, the council will need to undertake a public consultation.
This does not provide a solution to the provision of the Post Office as it is reliant upon someone coming forward that is willing to take on the role of postmaster. It also requires a suitable property to become available.
The council currently has a free Annexe building as it undergoes refurbishment. This project is almost complete, and the building will be ready to re-let soon.
However, the council says there are issues with the accessibility of the building, and these would need to be resolved if the Post Office were to consider it as an option. The doors would need to be widened and a ramp installed for wheelchair access.
The council said this would be a relatively easy option, but it is unlikely that the Post Office would deem it suitable as a location. It is not on the main high street, and it is ‘hidden’ in the car park.
If the council decided to run the Post Office itself, the town council would need to apply to the Post Office to take on the branch.
Conversations with Hailsham Town Council in East Sussex, which has undertaken a similar project, suggest that this will take approximately six months with a detailed business plan having to be prepared and presented in person in London.
The council says this is ‘worst case scenario’ and would have financial implications for the town council.
Cllr Richard MacRae (Independent), who serves Stapleford North, said the council should facilitate a meeting with the Post Office and local businesses which might be willing to take it on.
“We should try and do something,” he said. “A lot of people are disappointed there is not a Post Office on the high street. We can’t make a business take it on but if the Post Office came here and did a talk.”
Cllr Tim Hallam (Lib Dem), ward councillor for Stapleford South-East, added: “I like using our powers of communication to bring interested parties and the Post Office together to see if there is any franchises out there. I do not feel it is right for the town council to run a Post Office.
“We have seen public money invested in private ventures and going horribly wrong. I also do not think the financial environment is stable enough.”
Cllr David Grindell (Lib Dem), who serves Stapleford South-East, said he was against any plans to run a Post Office from the council’s Annexe building.
He said: “A lot of older people and younger people want the Post Office. It has to be on the high street. Poundstretcher has a lot of space it could use.”
Councillors agreed that a Post Office within an existing shop/business would be the best option.
It was decided that a leaflet would go out to businesses for an ‘invite only’ meeting at the council offices. It would be an opportunity for interested parties to ask questions to a Post Office representative.