More woes of rural post office

Imagine being forced to pack a bag, catch a bus and spend the night in digs in order to visit your nearest post office. It sounds like something that might happen to people in third world countries.

Imagine being forced to pack a bag, catch a bus and spend the night in digs in order to visit your nearest post office.

It sounds like something that might happen to people in third world countries.

But this is the ludicrous situation that faces villagers in New Buckenham, near Attleborough, whose post office is threatened with closure - under sweeping cuts outlined by Post Office Ltd.

Residents without transport of their own have been told their nearest alternative branch is a simple five minute bus journey away.

But the reality is that although you can catch two buses to neighbouring Old Buckenham at 2.02pm or 4.55pm there is no return service until 7.07am the following day.

And even if people were prepared to stay the night it might be difficult finding somewhere to sleep as local residents told the EDP there is a lack of bed and breakfast facilities in the centre of the village.

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However, if you were able to find somewhere to put your head down the going rate for a single room is £30 a night - a massive sum if all you want is a first class stamp costing 36p.

Determined types may feel like traipsing further afield to Banham. But packing sandwiches and a book are advised because the 9.37am bus from New Buckenham involves two changes and takes four hours and six minutes because it goes via Norwich and Diss.

Of course you could catch the 2.02pm service which only takes ten minutes and arrives in Banham at 2.12pm, but guess what? The return bus leaves at 1.44pm, so it's out with that overnight bag again.

Last night South West Norfolk MP Christopher Fraser described the situation as ridiculous.

He said: “It is a complete nonsense and shows the Post Office up for not taking full consideration of the needs of people in rural areas. It is something that I am going to be addressing in parliament and have already tabled for another debate on the post office closures in south west Norfolk.”

Eamon McGrath, community development manager for Age Concern Norfolk, said: “We are concerned about all the proposed closures because of the access problems this will cause for older people, particularly the more vulnerable.

“Even if another post office happens to be five miles down the road lots of busses in rural areas are not accessible for older people unless they have lowered floors.

“The Post Office has seen there is a bus stop at this point and a bus stop at another point, but has not actually looked at the timetables to see if it is a sensible option. This is a crazy situation. The villagers need to get writing to Postwatch and the Post Office.”

Jon Clemo, deputy chief executive of Norfolk Rural Community Council, said: “This doesn't surprise me. The Post Office was not requested in the headline criteria to apply public transport measures. Distances were given as the crow flies between post offices. They were asked to look at accessibility criteria, but not in a uniform way. I have come across several examples like this where the Post Office does not seem to have taken common sense into account.”

Gordon Andrew, chairman of New Buckenham's Save Our Post Office committee, said; “The post office is an important part of village life. There is no bus service that adequately serves our need, and I am currently trying to look at alternatives. The Post Office is ripping the heart out of the village and it seems intent on doing so.”

New Buckenham sub postmaster Terry Baines has spoken to Mr Fraser and written to the Post Office outlining his concerns.

He said: “I explained to them that eight to 10 elderly people in the village do not have transport and there are no transport links between here and the three post offices being recommended as alternatives at Old Buckenham, Banham and Kenninghall. I have asked them to find someway of supporting these people. The one post office accessible by public transport is at Bunwell but that requires getting a bus at around 9.40am and you cannot return until about 1.50pm.”

Norfolk County Council spokesman John Birchall said: “The county council is working with local district councils to visit every post office that is being put forward for closure to test all the assertions that are being made by the Post Office. We are challenging everything they are saying on an individual basis.”

A Post Office Ltd spokesman said: “We welcome all comments and feedback and can confirm that no decisions will be taken until after the public consultation has finished on June 2. If there are issues which people feel have not been addressed then this is the time to raise them.”