by Alan Smith
The writing may be on the cards for the Royal Mail in Maidstone.
The sorting office in Sandling Road could be closed in two years’ time if plans to centralise services for the whole county on a single site go ahead.
Royal Mail has submitted a planning application to build a new super sorting centre in Medway.
The chosen site is on a derelict Tesco distribution warehouse between Knight Road and Norman Close, Strood, and it would replace the county’s four existing mail centres at Maidstone, Tonbridge, Dartford and Canterbury.
Royal Mail Group said that the Maidstone Sorting Office was "outdated" and that a new purpose-built site was needed to accommodate modern sorting equipment.
The new centre would require 400 fewer jobs than the 3,710 employees across the four existing sorting offices, but said the intention was to shed the posts without making compulsory redundancies.
Spokesman Akudo Ike said: "By asking people to demonstrate a reasonable flexibility, we expect to be able to find roles for everyone who wants to continue to work for Royal Mail.
"The operational review is being undertaken on the basis of the national agreement reached earlier this year between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union, which has been endorsed by postmen and women in a national ballot.
"We are still consulting with our unions and our people on our proposals, and we are currently seeking their input into this proposed location and design. No final decisions have been made."
Sian Jones, a spokesman for the Communications Workers Union which represents many of the postal workers in Maidstone, said: "We will be looking to see there is no loss of jobs, that workers have sufficient choice and that there is compensation for any increased travel costs they may incur in moving to Medway.
"We will also want to be convinced there will be no adverse impact on postal services locally."
Royal Mail is hoping that Medway Council may grant permission as earlier as November, in which case the new centre could open in 18 months’ time in the spring of 2012.
The sorting and delivery operations from the other centres would then be transferred to Medway over a period of time.
However, there may yet be a spanner in the works. Ecologists have found a large number of lizards and slow worms on the proposed site, which may have to be rescued before construction could begin.