ABERLADY Post Office will close at the beginning of March.

The High Street facility, which has been run by Ross and Louise Searle for more than 20 years, is set to close on March 2, after a bid for a pharmacy to operate alongside the Post Office service was rejected.

The Post Office has said it is “investigating options” about how to retain a Post Office service in the village.

Mr and Mrs Searle thanked customers for their support and told the Courier it had been a difficult decision.

They said: “This has been an incredibly difficult and emotional decision for us after 23 years, as it was always our hope that the Post Office would remain long after our retirement.

“For a number of years, we have been researching sustainable options for the Post Office to continue.

“Many of you will know that over three years ago we were approached by Dears Pharmacy with a proposal of operating a pharmacy in the shop premises and running the Post Office alongside.

“This presented an ideal transition – Aberlady would have gained a pharmacy and retained the Post Office, a win-win scenario!”

But with pharmacies in Gullane and Haddington, and high vehicle ownership levels in Aberlady, as well as good transport links, the Dears Pharmacy plan was turned down by Lothian Health Board last May.

Despite local support for the idea, the Pharmacy Practices Committee (PPC) said at the time that they felt there were no ‘gaps’ in adequacy of pharmaceutical services in the area, and therefore a new one was not needed.

This decision was appealed by Gullane Area Community Council but was turned down for a second time last August.

Mr and Mrs Searle said “no viable alternative to ensure the continuation of the Post Office service has materialised” since the decision was taken and they were “left with no other option” than to close.

The couple, who live in the village, said: “We are just going to retire and consider our options. I [Ross] am 72 and my wife will be 65 this year – we are due a break, I would say.”

James Barbour, co-opted member of the community council for Aberlady, described the news as “very sad to hear”.

He said: “I have lived in Aberlady for 17 years and I know first-hand what an important and valued service the Post Office provides.

“Local people will be devastated to see the Post Office close, as it is a central hub in village life.

“I know how hard the current team in the Post Office have worked, and I hope, even at this late stage, that the Royal Mail and Post Office Ltd will make it possible for rural Post Offices like ours to continue to provide a vital service which is economically viable.”

Councillor Jeremy Findlay, North Berwick Coastal ward member, said: “It is, of course, a huge loss of amenity to Aberlady and the surrounding area.

“In my opinion, it is another example of the Post Office not supporting local rural communities.

“It is also a great shame that the Pharmacy Practices Committee did not support the application for a chemist in the Post Office. That would not only have saved the Post Office but enhanced the village.”

Iain Gray, MSP for East Lothian, described the news as “a serious blow” for the village.

He added: “I supported the Dears Pharmacy application as a way to try and help ensure the Post Office’s future and was bitterly disappointed that it was unsuccessful.

“I will contact Post Office Ltd to ask it to explore other options for retaining some level of post office provision in Aberlady.”

A Post Office spokesman confirmed the upcoming closure.

He said: “Following the resignation of the postmaster and the withdrawal of premises for Post Office use, Aberlady Post Office will close temporarily on Saturday, March 2.

“We would like to reassure customers that we are committed to maintaining vital Post Office services for the local community – including banking services like cash withdrawals from high street bank accounts, bill payments and, of course, a wide range of postal services.

“We are currently investigating the options available which will enable us to provide a Post Office service to the local community in the future.”