Christmas Adjournment — [David Hanson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:07 pm on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:07 pm, 20th December 2018

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue. We are not going back to British Rail. We are moving forward to a new model of public ownership that has been tried and tested across the industry, and we are ready to put it in place as soon as we get the first Queen’s Speech, which I am sure will not be too long now.

I want to talk about the disposal of public assets and the associated issues that are prevalent in my constituency. I will talk about the Post Office, the consultation and what is currently happening. I will talk about Bootham Park hospital and a decision that is currently on the Minister’s desk. Also, time permitting, I will touch on Bootham Crescent, the football ground that I am sure many are familiar with. I will start with the Post Office.

As we speak, a consultation is going on about the future of the Crown post office, which has been at 22 Lendal since 1884. We have lost many post offices from the city, but that one is in a prime location because of the flows of tourists and residents into the city from the rail station and by bus, and because of its accessibility for vehicles, particularly for disabled people, who can be dropped there. People are attracted to that part of the city, which is thriving—good news in this day and age—not least because it is opposite Appleton’s pie shop, which is Britain’s greatest pie shop. That is a good place from which people can orient themselves around York, and it is a successful part of the city.

It has been decided that the Crown post office will close its doors. It will be moved into WH Smith, not far from Lendal—but far enough, in Coney Street. That will be seriously detrimental to the people of the city. We have learned that the consultation will not be on whether the move should happen, because we are told that that has already been determined, so I have questioned what it is about. York post office is one of the few profitable post offices, and I think it is fair to say that those concerned are almost going through the motions of a consultation on the move. I find it deeply distressing that now is the time chosen for a consultation, because we all know that staff throughout the country work incredibly hard at this season of the year, to ensure that parcels and cards are delivered on time. At the same time, the future of their jobs, and where they will be located, is in question. The consultation on 28 December is at the busiest time of the year.

I find it disturbing that the Post Office has not done its homework. I have had several meetings now and glaring gaps have appeared, particularly with respect to access issues. I mentioned how accessible the Lendal post office is. WH Smith, into which it might move, is a struggling business in York. I have been in there and seen how empty it is. My grandfather spent his working life there, and it is an important business to my family, so I am sorry to see it in that state. In that area there are many boarded up shops and the economy is struggling, for a number of reasons, one of which is business rates.

Business rates are incredibly high in York, because of the valuations on businesses, not least because of offshore landlords trying to keep their investment levels up. That is why we need a transition away from a business rate system. Surely, it is a perverse economic choice to move the post office from a thriving area of the city to an area that is, frankly, dying. Not only that, but the new area will be less accessible. It is accessible to pedestrians walking along Coney Street, but not to cars. However, the city is putting in counter-terrorism measures that will restrict access completely. The Post Office was completely unaware of that when I raised it, but it means that disabled people will not be able to get to the post office. Bicycles can be parked outside the Lendal post office, but that will not be possible in Coney Street. The move is detrimental.

The post office is, of course, moving to a back corner of WH Smith, out of sight and out of the way. It is a cramped space, and that is a poor model, particularly given the traffic that comes through at this time of year.