VOTE: Closed door at register office sparks fears over phasing out

Fears have been voiced that people in the Midhurst and Petworth area may have to travel to Chichester in future to register births, marriages and deaths.

Concerns were expressed at the annual meeting of Midhurst Town Council after members heard the register office in Capron House had been closed for six weeks.

This was despite the fact the agreed opening hours, which until recently were advertised on the registrar's door, were every Monday from 2pm to 5pm, Tuesday 2pm to 5pm and Friday 9.30am to 12.30pm.

Chairman of Midhurst Town Council John Etherington told councillors: "The office has been closed for weeks and it seems there is now a notice on the door telling people to ring a number in Chichester for an appointment."

He said it seemed to be a 'typical county council manoeuvre' where people were deliberately not referred to a service and then it was claimed there was not a need.

"Many of you will remember St Cuthman's (special needs school) where the county did not refer so many children and then closed it.

"The same thing is allegedly happening at the Grange Day Centre where people are not being referred so there no longer seems to be a need.

Now it seems to be happening again with the registrar."

He added: "I don't know how West Sussex County Council squares this with saying they are going to have a new register office in the new Grange building.

"One begins to wonder if the county council will have any services at the new Grange centre at all."

Town clerk Joan Hursthouse, whose office is across the corridor from the register office in Capron House, said calls to make an appointment now went through to the West Sussex County Council call centre.

She said she had people knocking on her door at least once a week looking for the registrar.

"From the beginning of April we didn't have one in Midhurst for about six weeks," she told councillors.

Town councillors are to write to the county council asking what plans there are for the future of the service in the town.

A West Sussex County Council spokesman said: "Since October 2009 the registration service has operated an appointment system across all of its offices. Customers can make an appointment by calling the contact centre or by booking online.

"A registrar attends Midhurst on a regular basis when appointments are made. As this office is, and always has been, a part-time outstation it is not permanently staffed. There have been ten appointments in Midhurst so far this month.

"We have not reduced capacity at Midhurst and if there is demand are prepared to increase capacity. However, we are offering customers greater flexibility in how and when they can register.

"The registration service is committed to maintain a presence at the new Grange development."

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