WEYMOUTH’S main post office has closed down suddenly amid a dispute over non-payment of rent.

And it looks as though Weymouth will not have a town centre branch for the foreseeable future after operators Smartpost were kicked out of the building by the landlord, who is also understood to have highlighted other problems. Seventeen jobs are at risk following the shock closure.

Urgent calls were made today for the town to work with Post Office officials in a bid to secure another main branch. The nearest offices to the town centre are Dorchester Road at Lodmoor and Londis Abbotsbury Road although they offer fewer services.

The town centre branch switched to new premises at 87 St Thomas Street in January 2013 as part of a Post Office modernisation programme.

Smartpost, which runs the counter service on behalf of the Post Office, also included a Thorntons chocolates and greetings cards concession in the new shop.

Shocked customers arriving there on Saturday morning were met with locked doors and a sign in the window stating the landlord had changed the locks and forfeited the lease due to non-payment of rent.

It said: “The landlord has changed the locks and forfeited the lease of these premises by peaceable re-entry for non-payment of rent. From the date of re-entry the lease is considered to be at an end.” The notice also gave a telephone number for anyone wishing to arrange to collect items from the property.

During the morning, someone used a black marker pen to daub graffiti on the glass, including the word ‘pathetic’ and ‘another charity shop coming soon’.

It is thought a member of staff was responsible for adding another sign later, to cover the graffiti and landlord’s notice, stating the shop was closed due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’. It apologised to customers and directed them to other branches in Weymouth.

Crowds of customers gathered periodically outside the premises over the weekend, expressing their surprise at the closure.

Kevin Powell, 60, from Weymouth said: “I’m annoyed at what’s happened, especially for older people who need to get their pensions.

“This town’s had it, it’s going downhill. First Condor leaves and now we don’t even have a post office.”

Liliane Mutton, 80, from Weymouth, said: “We only found out on Saturday when we looked at the notice on the door. I came into town to post something.

“I get my pension paid straight in but I’m sure it will affect others because it’s the only post office.”

A 70-year-old Chickerell resident added: “I came down to this post office to get a passport application form because they don’t have them at other branches.

“Not paying their rent – don’t they make enough money?”

A staff member, who did not wish to be named, said they had been told not to say anything about the closure and they were unsure whether they would be transferred to another branch of if they would lose their jobs.

The individual said: “We know as much as the public.”

New branch was hi-spec

WEYMOUTH’S new-look post office opened in January 2013 after being relocated from larger premises further along St Thomas Street.

It had longer opening hours compared to the old office including all day Saturday.

South Dorset MP Richard Drax, officially opened the branch in February of that year.

At the time he praised the ‘bright and spacious’ premises which he said was a ‘vast improvement’ on the old building.

The premises were refurbished and fitted out to a high specification, ensuring adequate space and that the counters were easily accessible.

There were seven counter positions, a mixture of traditional security screened and open plan style positions.

When the new branch first opened, the Echo was told it was serving 400 extra people a week compared to the old general post office.

The old branch could be transformed into a restaurant under new proposals.

'Times have been tough'

WEYMOUTH post office operator and owner of Smartpost Matt Bumphrey, pictured, said the branch had been serving an average of 5,000 customers every week.

But he said a lack of sales of the Thorntons products the store had bought to bring in a second income resulted in a £58,000 loss, leaving Smartpost unable to pay its rent for October.

Mr Bumphrey said: “Times have been tough. Our solicitor wrote to the landlord in October asking if we could have a rent holiday to secure the post office for the long term.”

He claimed there had been no word from the landlord on the matter and said the closure was a ‘shock’.

“The staff are disappointed; absolutely gutted,” he added.

The closure could affect up to 17 staff, he said.

He said the landlord listed some problems, and no longer wanted the tenants in his premises.

Mr Bumphrey understands the problems refer to past difficulties with electrical repairs, ‘fire-boarding’ the ceiling between the post office and the flat above, and installing full disabled access.

Mr Bumphrey said he wanted to thank customers for their loyalty and support, and appealed to individuals and organisations in Weymouth that might be able to help the branch with temporary facilities.

Richard Paull, the landlord of the premises in which the post office is based, said: “The notice that’s on the door is all I want to say. I don’t want to give any further comment at this time.”

No-one from Post Office Ltd was available for comment.

'Look into it urgently'

BOROUGH councillor for the town centre Francis Drake said: “It’s disgusting this has been allowed to happen. A town needs its post office.

“We need to look into this urgently as it sounds like it could be months before we have a town centre branch.

“Can the council or businesses can work with the Post Office to provide something temporary?”

He added: “Many people will be affected by this, including the elderly drawing their pensions.”

Julie Cleaver, president of the borough’s chamber of commerce, said: “Obviously it’s a very disappointing and frustrating thing to happen for customers. I hope they get to the bottom of it and can sort things out as it’s a valuable service.

“If they want to send us a formal request with a business case we can put it to our members at our next meeting, which is the monthly business breakfast on Tuesday, and we can discuss any ways we could help.”

Mike Kelly from the Weymouth and Portland Access Group said: “We fully understand that there are some buildings like historic buildings where (disable access) isn’t possible, but when you are providing a key service it’s important that the building is accessible.”