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Post Office Sites

Volume 643: debated on Wednesday 28 June 1961

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4.

asked the Postmaster-General if he is now able to make a statement on the conclusions of the committee which has been studying the future potential of Post Office sites and buildings.

10.

asked the Postmaster-General if he has yet received the report on the use of Post Office sites; and if he will make a statement.

I have now received reports on nineteen Post Office sites from the consultants whose advice I sought. They include reports on the Head Post Offices at Liverpool, Leeds and Birmingham. These reports confirm my view that the potential values that might be realised through more intensive development are considerable. I am satisfied that these developments ought to be exploited, both on commercial grounds and in the public interest.

As regards the smaller sites, I have now decided, as a matter of policy, to embark on schemes where commercial development is incidental to Post Office development, where capital for such development is available from normal allocations, and where the return on capital will be substantial.

The redevelopment of the larger sites differs from the smaller ones inasmuch as they require substantial capital, and in some cases much of the development would be for non-Post Office purposes. I am now considering the best method, including sale or leasing, of dealing with these cases.

Will the Minister say to what extent the committee gave consideration to the full utilisation of Post Office land and buildings and whether it stated what percentage is to be earmarked for further modernisation and what percentage is to be used for commercial purposes? Turning to the part of the Minister's statement which dealt with commercial exploitation, will he assure the House that Post Office counter services will not become public inconveniences by being moved to the back streets solely in order to make it possible to capitalise on the best sites?

Taking, first, the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, there is no intention whatever in my mind that Post Office services as such should suffer. On the contrary, we are taking steps now to improve counter services to the general public.

Reverting to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I think that it would be quite wrong to take a broad sweep at this business. Obviously, we must consider all these cases on their individual merits.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the reply he has given so far, but can he give us an idea of the scope of the operation by indicating approximately the number of sites which will be considered and by indicating also the sort of financial return he expects on the capital outlay?

We have about 2,000 postal sites throughout the country and about 8,000 telephone exchanges. Their book value, all told, is about £180 million. I should have thought that the greatest scope for development rested in the postal buildings as such, and my personal estimate is that at least 200 of our postal buildings ought to be redeveloped more adequately during the next five years or so, As regards return on capital, I should certainly hope for a return—and I am sure we can get it— of about 15 per cent.