Posts Tagged post offices

Licensing battles: victory in Clerkenwell, fight continues in Westbourne Road

Congratulations to George Allan and the Clerkenwell Lib Dem team for securing victory in their campaign.

They have been asking that the area is recognised as ‘saturated’ with licensed premises. Clerkenwell ward has 135 licensed premises – that’s about one for every 35 households!

So no more licenses will now be issued: and existing licensed premises will have to be good neighbours or risk losing their license to a better operator.

This is one of the first examples of residents fighting back against the flood of licensed premises following Labour’s Licensing Act, but it may well not be the last.

I’ve just sent in my witness statement in a case supported by residents in the Westbourne Road and Ellington Street area. This is a residential neighbourhood, away from main roads, with schools, churches, a children’s centre and adventure playground. Not the obvious place for a boom in booze – yet that’s what’s happening.

The Ellington Street Residents Association (ESRA) have found there are already 27 off-licences within 500 metres of the shop where yet another off-licence wants to open up. Staggering distance, you might say.

The licensing law gives few grounds for councils to reject such applications, despite, in this case, so much local opposition. St Mary’s ward councillor James Kempton was particularly frustrated that the petition of over 450 signatures was effectively marginalised. Now the case is going to court, with a hearing later this month.

The heart of Westbourne Road’s little shopping parade used to be the local post office. But like so many in Islington, it was closed as part of the notorious ‘Network Renewal’ programme. I find it deeply ironic that as one Government policy has robbed this neighbourhood of its post office, another now allows the flooding of the area with off-licences.

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Improving Highbury Corner


This morning I was up and out early to meet residents and local councillors at Highbury Corner.

There’s a bus stand next to Dixon Clark Court, and a long-standing beef of residents there is that some of the bus drivers using the stand keep their engines running – against all the rules – generating more noise and pollution.

There was already one bus on the stand, but as we advanced with our ‘Give us some peace & quiet’ posters, he drove off. That’s one solution to the problem… Shortly afterwards another bus rolled up and we got our protest pic before rushing off to work. Though not before one of the TMO activists had told me that as a lifelong Labour supporter, he’s planning to vote Lib Dem next time. Not a bad start to the day!

This morning’s protest is just the start. Lib Dem GLA member Caroline Pidgeon has tabled a question to Mayor Boris Johnson on the subject, and we’ll be watching keenly for the response.

Meanwhile the Council is keeping plans to improve Highbury Corner on the agenda. The changes championed by council leader James Kempton were backed by residents in last year’s consultation. They include an improved post office (hooray – at present people end up queuing out on the pavement), converting the ‘gyratory’ to a more traditional street pattern, improving crossings and giving access to the greenspace.

The Council has earmarked £5M towards the plans; and is challenging the Mayor to match it.

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Guardian blog 14 November

My latest Guardian blog – with thoughts on Remembrance Sunday and Government climbdowns – is now online.

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Save Goswell Road Post Office

It’s almost incredible, but the Post Office have announced the closure of another Islington post office. This time it’s the popular branch on Goswell Road, EC1. Not only is it in a regeneration area, on the borders of Bunhill and Clerkenwell, but it’s surrounded by large estates, small shops, and City University: all communities that need their local post office.

The post offices at Old Street and Mount Pleasant are each half a mile away and none of them is on a direct bus route from Goswell Road. Or are Finsbury residents expected to join the hour-long queue at Upper Street?

As the Post Office statement makes clear, this is entirely driven by the Labour Government’s cuts plan, “part of the implementation of the Government decision to reduce the UK wide network of Post Office branches by up to 2,500”.

One post office in Walthamstow has been saved; so it seems another in Islington must close – even though none of their previous reviews suggested closing Goswell Road. With 12 Islington post offices already closed under Labour, Goswell Road is a very unlucky 13.

Labour Ministers are frank that it’s a cost-driven agenda; earlier this month, Pat McMadden MP told the BBC, “three out of four post offices in the country are actually running at a loss and that’s part of the reason why some are having to close.”

For Labour MP Emily Thornberry to claim she supports our post offices is the worst hypocrisy.

She described branches like Goswell Road as ‘just a counter in a shop’. When other Labour MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, voted with the Lib Dems to try and stop the closure programme, Emily Thornberry voted with the Government, to carrying on closing. Then she tries to blame the Council… If buck-passing was an Olympic event, she’d be in the national team. Well Islington residents aren’t stupid, we can see how she votes, and it’s clearly not in favour of our post offices.

Liberal Democrats have consistently opposed Post Office closures. We’ve already launched our petition to save Goswell Road, and we’ve had a fantastic response from residents, businesses and the University.

You can join the campaign here.

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A little less conversation, a little more action

One of my friends says that she managed to keep a diary during the times of her life when she had nothing much going on (holidays, maternity leave, quiet times at work) but not at the very times when people might have been remotely interested in what she had to report.

I feel a bit like that now. On Monday, I was blogging about nothing more exciting than my journey to work. Since then, no blog, but lots going on.

In no particular order, in the last 48 hours

– We’ve learned that ANOTHER Islington post office is set to close, and launched our campaign to save it
– I’ve taken local campaigners to Angel crossing to observe the problems there first-hand
– I did a ward walkabout in Clerkenwell with one of the councillors
– Islington had a local party meeting on youth crime, causes & solutions
– And I’ve done another Guardian blog.

I will post pieces on some of these in due course. For now, fingers crossed for Stephen Kearney and the team in Henley tomorrow.

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Essex Road Post Office: victory!

We finally got the news today!

Post Office Ltd have issued this announcement: “Public consultation has been held on a proposal to close Essex Road Crown Post Office in N1 but Post Office Ltd announced today it has been decided not to proceed with the closure of this branch at this time as discussions with a potential franchise partner are now underway. If these negotiations are successful there will be a six week consultation on a proposal to franchise this Post Office® branch.”

It’s a triumph against the odds (and against the government) and a tribute to a great team effort. We made it very clear that we did not want Essex Road post office to close.

I can’t believe it’s a year since we launched the petition with Jo Swinson MP; since then thousands of Islington residents have signed up to our campaign against the closure. We’ve also had fantastic support from local businesses, voluntary groups and the Council.

It’s also a bittersweet victory as other branches in Islington are still set to close – part of the government-backed restructuring voted for by Labour MPs, including Emily Thornberry. But we’ve saved Essex Road for our community – and that’s something to celebrate. !

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Whoops she did it again

There has been some debate about whether our local MP Emily Thornberry did, or did not, vote for post office closures last year. What’s clearly on the record is that she did vote against an Opposition motion which said “…condemns the Government’s short-sighted plan to close 2,500 sub-post offices…”.

And at the same sitting she voted with the Government FOR a long amendment which failed to express any condemnation or regret about closures and instead said “…endorses the Government’s firm commitment to ensuring the continuation of the network, while acknowledging the widely held view that its present size is unsustainable; supports the Government’s approach of allowing Royal Mail the freedom to respond to future commercial challenges and opportunities, and in particular enabling Post Office Limited to determine the future shape of the network within clear Government rules…”.

So did Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn, who, unlike Ms Thornberry, is a regular rebel. In fact, no Labour MPs rebelled on that vote.

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume that back in January 2007, they believed that the rather pompous Government motion wasn’t code for closures. Perhaps the Whips were in particularly terrifying form. And maybe they believed that with Islington having already lost 10 Post Offices, there was no way that their own area could possibly be facing more cuts from their own Government.

Roll on a year. It’s March 2008. Two more Islington sub-post offices, at either end of Caledonian Road, are scheduled to close; plus the busy Crown Post Office at Essex Road. So are neighbouring post offices in Highgate, on Blackstock Road and Murray Grove, Hackney, all used by some Islington residents. It’s clear that the axe is falling on Islington, and that local people are angry.

Another Parliamentary motion is tabled. It “calls upon the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to instruct Post Office Limited to suspend the compulsory closure of sub-post offices while these issues are re-assessed”. A Government amendment is also tabled which notes the financial losses made by the Post Office and deletes the proposal to suspend closures.

The amendment and the motion give our MPs a clear choice: to stop closures or continue them. We know beyond doubt that these closures are now affecting Islington. But what about the Whips? Not that terrifying evidently; because 20 Labour MPs rebel, including Jeremy Corbyn, and neighbouring Hackney MP Diane Abbott.

And what about Emily? She voted with the Government. For closures. Again.

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