STAFF fear the closure of Harrow's Land Registry office could stretch the service to breaking point when the UK property market improves.
The Lyon Road office, which has been open in the borough since 1965, closed its doors for the last time yesterday, with services being shifted to Land Registry bases in Stevenage, Croydon, and Swansea.
At its peak, the office had more than 800 staff and offered a walk-in service for residents to ask about issues like transfer of land deeds, bankruptcy notices, and divorce proceedings.
Following the closure, part of a national streamlining bid by Land Registry, the nearest office where Harrow residents will be able to speak face to face with workers will be in Swansea, more than three hours away by car.
Terry Burch, 64, who worked for the Land Registry between 1966 and 2004, told the Harrow Times: “The credit crunch has hit all the property market, and with the effectiveness of the computer system, we are overstaffed at the moment.
“But when the market picks up, if you have closed offices down you may find you have cut into the muscle of the organisation instead of the fat.
“I don't believe the service will be able to deal with a strong upsurge in the property market.”
Will Stoodley, Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union rep at the Harrow office added that the closure will see a lot of local expertise lost in the area.
He said: “The problem we see is that people have to go to Swansea to talk to someone face to face.
“Land Registry is not going to have people here with such a diverse range of languages, like Tamil, Gujarati, Hindi, Bengali.
“It seems like a very shortsighted decision.”
Staff from the office have been gradually transferred to other offices, offered redundancy, or taken early retirement since the closure decision was announced in 2006.
Mr Stoodley added there are rumours the Land Registry office in Swansea may also be closed, leaving the base in Coventry as the nearest for Harrow residents.
It is not clear what will become of Lyon House now it has been vacated, especially the lease taken out by fellow tenants HM Revenue and Custom runs out in June.
When questioned about the effect the closure in Harrow would have on local residents and on the national service in the event of the property market improving, Land Registry declined to comment.
It chose to issue a statement from John Peaden, area manager of the Harrow Office, which read: “It has been a real privilege for me to be area manager for the final three years of Harrow's proud 45-year history.
“For much of its history, Harrow had anything up to 600 staff working on some of the most complex casework from central London and taking a leading role in pioneering developments in computerisation.
“It has made a major contribution to Land Registry's successes and to the development of land registration. The office feels like a close-knit community and that's because it is one."