Residents argued that elderly and blind residents of Brunswick would be unable to walk uphill to Melville Road in Seven Dials to collect their pensions when the Western Road Post Office closes in January at a public meeting.
A petition organised by City Books and available in 50 other Brunswick businesses has been signed by more than 5,000 Brighton and Hove residents, including 2,000 online signatories.
Petitioners oppose a two-tier post office.
Laura Tarling, head of public and parliamentary affairs at the Post Office, said yesterday evening (Monday 17 August): “Western Road Post Office has seen a 20 per cent decline in customers.”
She explained that Post Office Ltd owns a “crown network” of flagship branches, attracting government subsidies, as well as franchised post office branches.
Nationally the crown network has made a loss of £12 billion, said Ms Tarling.
Inge Sweetman, who owns City Books, said: “Brunswick has a particular demographic. It is densely populated with lots of elderly people and young people including more than 70 language students who take out foreign money and post letters abroad. The area is like the demographic in London.”
Ms Tarling explained that the government subsidy has reduced by £40 million nationally.
She said: “The crown network needs to make a profit because other post offices make a loss.”
Hove MP Peter Kyle chaired an emotionally charged public meeting of at least one hundred concerned residents at the Cornerstone Community Centre.
Mr Kyle said: “I feel disappointed about the lack of investment in the post office which should be an economic success. We are a very passionate, warm and friendly community.”
There was a consensus at the meeting that the post office was always busy at many different times of day. The Western Road Post Office is a Brunswick community asset.
Ms Sweetman said that upstairs rooms could be converted and sublet to raise money. The freehold was sold 11 years ago.
Ms Tarling said that staff would not be made redundant or redeployed until after the consultation.
Adam Campbell asked: “What other innovations has Post Office Ltd made, for example, selling insurance?”
Former Green councillor Christopher Hawtree said: “I hope the campaign will be successful like the Hove Library one. There is a price to everything.”
As part of the current consultation, 40 branches are threatened with closure because people’s habits are changing and more people are shopping online, said Ms Tarling.
Daniel Wells said that the post office was missing a massive commercial opportunity to deliver parcels sold through ebay, for example.
Valerie Paynter suggested expanding the empty EcoStream building to make the post office bigger and she criticised “the unbelievable reliance on small vulnerable retailers to replace crown post offices”.
There are four post offices within a mile of Brunswick’s Western Road Post Office in Church Road, near Grand Avenue, Blatchington Road, north of George Street, in WH Smiths, in Churchill Square, and in Melville Road at the Seven Dials.
Several people intervened to call for much-needed investment into the retail element of the post office.
There were calls to reward outstanding staff at the Western Road Post Office who have won awards for their customer service.
Ms Sweetman said: “If the closure of the post office is a fait accompli, then I would rather know.”
Public consultation runs for 12 weeks until Wednesday 16 September. People are invited to respond, in particular, about the suitability and accessibility of branches including the inside of premises.
Residents raised concerns about the lift and escalator at WH Smiths Post Office and the lack of seats for those with restricted mobility.
Ms Tarling agreed to monitor WH Smiths and noted public dissatisfaction with the post office there because of accessibility issues.
Comments and questions about the consultation can be submitted through an online questionnaire at postofficeviews.co.uk by Freepost: Your Comments to Post Office Ltd, via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, via the customer helpline on 08457 223344 or Textphone 08457 223355.
In all post office communications, customers are asked to quote branch code 01090799.
No decision has yet been taken about the future of the Western Road Post Office but if the merger goes ahead, it will take place in January.
Brighton and Hove residents can oppose the closure by signing Save Brunswick Town Post Office online petition here or by signing a hard copy of the petition at City Books or 50 different businesses in Brunswick.