THE death knell has finally been sounded for a popular Petersfield post office – and the future of four further village branches hangs in the balance. One shellshocked postmaster reacted to the decision with disbelief, while critics slammed Post Office Ltd's six-week public consultation period as "a done deal" and "a sham". Meanwhile, branches at East Meon, West Meon, Froxfield and East Tisted face an anxious wait to see whether they will be replaced with outreach services. One of the 61 post offices across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight definitely set for closure is the Clare Gardens post office in Durford Road. Postmaster Joe Patel, who has run the branch in his Londis store with wife Johti for 18 years, was stunned. He said: "It is a surprise for me and I am very disappointed. It was a big, big surprise, as I thought it was going to stay open after all the letters written by my customers and the hard work given to the campaign. "I am not pleased with the consultation process. They got the public involved and in my opinion they haven't looked into the toll that this closure will have on the local community. This is a community store." His point was illustrated recently when, following a power cut, Petersfield's main post office was forced to close temporarily, and customers flocked to nearby Durford Road. Mr Patel estimated that around 100 people use his post office each day, and lamented the possible repercussions of the loss of a vital service. "This will affect my business. It's a post office, and it not being here will make a big difference." After thanking his customers for their efforts in trying to keep the branch open, Mr Patel added: "The Post Office have given me the option of closing on February 18 or April 4. I will drag it out until April." Froxfield postmistress Marilyn Wilkinson reacted pragmatically to the decision. "It is what I expected," she said. "Froxfield is being given an outreach office so the village will have a post office service. Although what format that will take, we are not certain. "Any office that is being offered an outreach service has still got a post office. There will be 2,500 offices across the country closed. "We all know it's not ideal, but unfortunately we all know what changes have gone ahead over the years with all sorts of organisations." "It is a very difficult situation the Post Office has found itself in, in all honesty. It has been dictated to by government as to the number of offices that should be closed," she added. Concerning the post office counter situated within West Meon village shop – a community store owned by 475 villagers on a non-profit basis – postmaster Rupert Younger expressed his thoughts. "It is a huge disappointment, but we understand the decision-making process and are encouraged that the Post Office is committed to providing some sort of post office service in the area. "I understand that the Post Office is trying to find an existing post office to act as a 'core' to provide an outreach service. Bishop's Waltham and Horndean are being approached and if it is economically viable for them, then we will work with them to provide an outreach service to East Meon, West Meon, Froxfield and East Tisted." While the postmistress at East Meon didn't wish to comment, and contractual stipulations prevent John Wood, postmaster at the axed Passfield post office near Liphook, from doing so for the next 12 months, East Hampshire MP Michael Mates was outspoken on both the decision and public consultation. "Sixty post offices were proposed for closure and they said that they would listen to what local people would have to say, but they have gone ahead and confirmed all the post offices for closure. It's a complete sham," he said. "To make people believe that when they are consulted it means something and then ignore them is a shameful deception on the Post Office's part," he added. One such body who saw its concerns ignored was Petersfield Town Council, which wrote to Tim Nickolls, the Post Office's network development manager for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, expressing concerns over the potential closure of Durford Road. Town clerk Neil Hitch spoke of the decision as being "a done deal". "It rather looks that way," he said. "The Post Office decided in advance to close Durford Road, which is deeply regretted, and the community will be significantly poorer as a result." In response to the closures, a Post Office Ltd spokesman said: "These are difficult decisions that have not been taken lightly and we are aware of the high regard in which post office branches and those who serve in them are held. "Unfortunately, with any change to the Post Office network some customers will be affected. We considered carefully all the feedback received during the public consultation and believe that the plan announced today (Wednesday) offers the best prospect for a sustainable network in the future, bearing in mind the government's minimum access criteria and the other factors the government has asked us to consider."