WHSmith say they have no plans to open branch on High Road
Concerns about the future of Chiswick’s main Post Office resurfaced this week following the announcement that the branch in Hammersmith town centre was to close.
There has been consistent speculation about the Heathfield Terrace branch and it looks like the closure of the counters in the WHSmith store in Kings Mall shopping centre due to its redevelopment will not be offset by the opening of a replacement branch. As with Acton, it is feared, that despite assurances from the Post Office, another major town centre will be left without a main Post Office.
It has been suggested for some time that, should the Heathfield Terrace building in Chiswick be redeveloped, that WHSmith would open a Post Office within their store on the High Road. However, a spokesperson for WHSmith told us they had no plans to do this at their W4 branch.
It is believed that the Heathfield Terrace building in which the Post Office is situated as well as the Royal Mail sorting office was sold to property investment company Land Securities Trillium in February 2007 and leased back. This company was acquired by Telereal which owns many of the old BT sites and is currently called Telereal Trillium. This company owns more than 12,000 properties across the UK which have been valued at over £8 billion.
The lease that was given to the Royal Mail was for 15 years and it is thought that the Post Office in Heathfield Terrace is subletting with their lease expiring at the same time. If the lease started at the time the original sale to Trillium was announced, that would mean the expiry would be in February 2022.
The Royal Mail announced plans in 2018 to close their delivery office at the Heathfield Terrace office by May 2019 but these were put on ice. It has been suggested that they initiated these plans because they knew the lease was unlikely to be renewed. The Royal Mail refused to comment on this or on the issue of ownership when asked by us.
The current postmaster at Heathfield Terrace has confirmed that his lease has two years to run and says he would be keen to continue if the lease is extended.
The Post Office in Chiswick previously had a poor reputation having been consigned to Room 101 by Sheila Hancock in the TV show of the same name. However, it is now run by a different team and many people believe there has been a distinct improvement.
Local ward councillor Joanna Biddolph said, “I know how hard the team there has been working to turn round the terrible reputation of a previous management team. There are queues at times but that is expected from the diverse role provided by our post office. Passport applications and car tax renewals have to be very carefully checked and that can’t be rushed. Questions - and surely we’ve all asked them - about alternative costs when posting parcels or options for sending post abroad - take time to answer. The difference these days is that the staff apologise for the wait and are much keener to help than I remember during its previous incarnation.”
The business has been hit really hard by the pandemic. It makes very little from stamps for which the margin is very low. Revenue from more profitable lines such as foreign currency has completely disappeared because the lack of foreign travel and the branch had to shut down altogether when staff became ill.
Rents remain high and, although a business rates holiday will help, the general decline in takings at the store has been a blow. It is hard enough being in a secondary location with little footfall and lots of specialist competitors for the items sold in the shops nearby on the High Road. Because the rateable value of the premises is so high the branch didn’t qualify for a Covid-19 support grant.
The postmaster needs to be an entrepreneur and supplement the revenues from Post Office business which alone would not cover the rent. At the same time they must operate within strict limitations set by the Royal Mail. This means that the can only use the space as a general store and the layout is constrained by rules about the security of the post and money.
Councillor Biddolph adds, “So, this is a plea. If, like me, you want our post office to continue to provide services, please use it - as a post office and as a general store. Stationery and cards, a range of children’s colouring books not found anywhere else in Chiswick, groceries (from cleaning products to crisps), newspapers and magazines, confectionery and, if enough of us go in to build its business, wine and other drinks (it has an off-licence). There is a Kodak Photo Lab (for passport photos and for photos for mugs, cushions, etc). It has this week opened a stall providing mobile repair and accessories, and laptop repairs.”
She says that her ‘heart breaks’ when she hears criticism of the Post Office when so much effort is being made to build a positive business and provide an important community service.
We asked the Post Office Ltd about the future of the Chiswick branch but have not received a response.
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July 4, 2020