Despite a packed public meeting on February 14 at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Four Marks, during which residents of both communities were unanimous in their view that the post office service would be better placed at Lymington Barns, the decision has been taken by Post Office Ltd to relocate the existing service from Medstead Hardware to The Handy Stores on Medstead High Street where it will operate as a “new, local-style post office branch”.
In a statement, Post Office Ltd points out that, while it was regrettable that the existing sub-post office counter, which was being operated by a temporary postmaster, closed on February 28, every effort was being made to open the branch at the new location as soon as possible, to minimise disruption to customers.
In the meantime, people have been directed to use Alton post office on Westbrook Walk, which is open 9am to 5.30pm Monday to Saturday.
The decision follows the outcome of a public consultation on the relocation of the Medstead service, which is said to have attracted 352 individual responses from customers and local representatives.
Regional network manager Suzanne Richardson said: “A large amount of feedback welcomed the retention of post office services within Medstead, in close proximity to the existing site, the ease of access at the new location, and the longer opening times the new branch would provide.”
And she added that some customers expressed reservations about whether there would be enough space within the new premises to accommodate a post office, but she was confident it would.
Ms Richardson also confirmed that there had been “a large amount of feedback suggesting the branch should be located in a neighbouring village (Four Marks) instead”.
According to Ms Richardson, as part of the consultation process Post Office Ltd had met with the independent statutory consumer watchdog, which in Great Britain is Citizens Advice, to review all the consultation responses and ensure all relevant feedback was considered.
She said: “All the feedback helped me to understand customers’ views and to make sure that all information was carefully considered in finalising our plans.
“The move of this branch is part of our modernisation and investment plans to provide a Post Office network that is sustainable and will better meet customer needs for the future. As part of the programme, our proposal to relocate Medstead post office aims to secure Post Office services to the local community for the longer term by providing a more stable, modern and commercially viable service.
“A number of factors are taken into account when considering an appointment, including the distance to the new location, access, the size of the premises and the suitability of the operator.
“The processes we follow are established and robust and the new operator at The Handy Stores was successfully appointed following the completion of our application process. We are, therefore, satisfied with the appointment made and are not in a position to consider other premises or location from which to operate this branch.”
Ms Richardson continued: “We know that the post office plays an important part in the lives of customers, particularly elderly and disabled customers, and we want to make our services as accessible as we possibly can.
“I am pleased to confirm that the new operator will install a permanent access ramp at the entrance, providing ease of access into the premises.
“Internally, the new branch will be built in line with Post Office specifications, making sure there is sufficient space for the new-style local post office to operate alongside the retail offer. We will be working closely with the new operator on the internal layout and some fixtures and fittings will be re-aligned or removed to make sure there is clear access into the premises.
“Aisles and the queuing area will be kept free from obstructions and adequate room will be provided for customers and a wheelchair to move around the store and access Post Office services without difficulty.
“The new local-style post office will operate from a post office serving point located at the shop counter enabling customers to carry out a wide range of Post Office products and services alongside retail transactions.”
According to Ms Richardson, the new post office outlet will offer an enhanced range of products, and customers will still be able to transact manual banking, Transcash, and Royal Mail and Parcelforce International Services, while cheques will continue to be accepted as a method of payment.
Those products and services which are not available, such as vehicle tax and on-demand travel money, will be available at Alton post office.
The change of venue to The Handy Stores will also result in longer opening hours, amounting to an additional 33 hours a week. Opening hours will be Monday to Friday: 7am-6pm; Saturday: 7am-4pm; Sunday: 7am-noon.
Posters are to be displayed in The Handy Stores to let customers know when the new post office branch will be open.