THE battle lines were drawn yesterday (Tuesday) as it was announced eight post offices across North Devon and Torridge were earmarked for closure with a further 13 to be replaced by an outreach service.

THE battle lines were drawn yesterday (Tuesday) as it was announced eight post offices across North Devon and Torridge were earmarked for closure with a further 13 to be replaced by an "outreach" service.

Now begins a six-week consultation period and communities are preparing to get in the trenches and fight Government plans to close 45 branches across the county.

Post Office Ltd has published proposals to close outright a total of eight branches in this area: Bishops Tawton, Barnstaple Street, East-the-Water; Goodleigh, Portland Street, Ilfracombe; Seaside ,Combe Martin; Barbrook at Lynton, Lynmouth and Sutcombe, near Holsworthy.

Those facing the outreach option (see below) would be replaced with alternatives such as:

n a mobile service, established within third party premises for restricted weekly hours;

n moved to a location such as a pub;

n or even become a "home delivery" service, all of which the Post Office says would enable the facility to continue in smaller communities.

Torridge and West Devon MP Geoffrey Cox said he was horrified at the extent of the cuts and closures, vowing a strong campaign to fight back.

He has just launched a new website -www.geoffreycox.co.uk/postoffices - where people can view a map of the affected branches, click on their own and lodge views which will go straight to the consultation response.

They can also download the forms for friends and neighbours, as well as campaign posters and information on the best ways to fight back.

"I think these proposals are extremely damaging to our communities and I am deeply concerned at the effect they will have," said Mr Cox.

"I've had numerous meetings with Post Office executives in the hope of dissuading them from wielding the axe, but they have brought it down very heavily on our communities.

"The first thing colleagues from other parts of the country have said is the Post Office told them it did not get a good response to the public consultation.

"So the most essential thing people must do is ensure they register their views.

"If we don't get an overwhelming response we really can't rescue anything from the situation, but I hope and believe the people of Torridge will come out in support of their post office."

In the next few weeks every Torridge household would receive a leaflet enabling them to register their views, he said and he was also working to ensure local branches have a supply of consultation forms.

North Devon MP Nick Harvey was also "bitterly disappointed" at the prospect of six closures in his constituency:

Impact

"I think it will diminish the communities served by the post offices in question," he said.

"It will particularly hit customers who are less mobile and unable to go somewhere else, as well as having an impact on businesses - all around it's really very bad news.

"In the longer term I fear for the future of a universal postal service."

But he nonetheless urged people in the affected communities to stand up, be counted and make their views known before the consultation ends on June 30.

"I'd urge people to participate in the consultation if they have strong views. The evidence from elsewhere suggests all we can really do is replace one branch with another, but it doesn't follow that it isn't still worth trying."

The Post Office has said 92 per cent of Devon's population would "see no change" to their nearest branch, while another 7.5 per cent lived less than one mile away from alternative.

"Taking the decision to close any branch is always very difficult and we know will cause concern to many of our customers," said Tim Nickolls, Network Development Manager for Devon.

"We want to ensure everyone who uses, relies on or has any concern with Post Office services is both fully aware of the proposed changes, and able to give views on them."

Devon County Council Leader Brian Greenslade said the announcement would be a body blow to local services and the council would be debating the matter tomorrow (Thursday.)

"We have already said we will work with communities and the Post Office to try and sustain local services where we can and are prepared to invest money to achieve this objective."

Adam Symons, Lib Dem PPC for Torridge and West Devon said: "The cuts are much more severe than the leaked reports on Friday, as expected.

"Outreach services cannot replace the community cohesion that the current post offices provide.

"This will be devastating for the communities involved, and we are already working closely with post offices in places like Clovelly, Shebbear, Bridestowe and Tavistock to submit responses which will show the significance of these post offices within their local communities."

A detailed copy of the proposals is available from www.postoffice.co.uk/networkchange. To lodge your views write to Tim Nickolls, Network Development Manager, C/o National Consultation Team, FREEPOST CONSULTATION TEAM; email consultation@postoffice.co.uk or call the Customer Helpline on 08457 223344.

n Branches facing replacement by "outreach" services: Ashreigney, Ashwater (Beaworthy,) Bishops Nympton, Bratton Fleming, Bridgerule, Buckland Brewer, Burrington, Chittlehamholt, Clovelly, Langtree, Shebbear, St Giles On The Heath, West Buckland, West Down.