Plan to close West Norfolk Council branch offices approved
Plans to close council offices in two West Norfolk towns have been approved, despite claims they represent an unacceptable cut in services to rural areas.
A final plea to reprieve the facilities in Downham and Hunstanton was made to the borough council’s cabinet when it discussed the proposal on Tuesday.
But members pressed ahead with the move, which will see staff transferred to handling telephone inquiries at the council’s Lynn offices.
Kathy Mellish, portfolio holder for facilities and ICT, said: “Its not a decision we’ve taken lightly.
“It’s been difficult but we need to put people back on the phones. We dont want to have long queues and we want people to access services easily.
The meeting was also told self-service facilities would be installed at the town council offices in Hunstanton as an alternative access point. Similar technology is already available at the Downham library.
Currently, the offices at the Priory Centre in Downham and Valentine Road, Hunstanton are open for two days each week. They had been open every weekday until the spring of last year.
Officials have said the two sites cater for an average of 28 and 21 customers per day respectively and expect the number to drop sharply following the recent decision to stop selling waste food caddy bags, that are no longer needed because of improvements in processing technology.
A revised report was also presented to the meeting, which said 80 per cent of responses to a public consultation had indicated they would use the phone to access services if the offices were shut.
But Conservative backbencher David Pope, who chairs the council’s audit committee, said: “It is, in my opinion, another reason for decline in rural services.
“I don’t see, where someone’s struggling in my ward up to Downham Market, being able to spend 20 minutes is too much out the way.
“I understand the situation in King’s Lynn with the telephone but to deprive the rural areas of service I totally disagree with.”
However, Mrs Mellish said: “If the office had a free flow of people constantly all day we would know we had an issue.
“The office is manned two days a week. There hasn’t been a complaint so there cannot be high use of the service. We can’t argue with the facts.”
Leader Brian Long added: “Those people who are manning those offices, and doing a good job of it, are not being fully utilised. On the phones at Kings Court, they will be.”