Community leaders react to bank branch closure figures

HSBC and Santander banks, Stowmarket

HSBC has recently announced that they will be closing their Stowmarket branch. - Credit: Google Maps

Community leaders have been reacting to new data that shows the scale of bank and building society branch closures throughout Suffolk - with some parts of the county having lost more than half their outlets.

It is feared the losses will reduce the use of cash and hit town centre trade, and leave some people - especially older residents - forced to travel miles to do their banking.

The data comes out just days after HSBC announced the closure of three more Suffolk branches.

Data from Which? shows that areas of Suffolk have lost between 29.4% and 61.5% of their branches since 2015.

Suffolk Coastal, which includes towns like Southwold and Woodbridge, have lost 50% of its banks since 2015, leaving it with 11 branches left.

Hannah Wright, Southwold development manager, said:  “Banks are an integral part of a local high street, the one in Southwold is fundamental to the town. 

Hannah Wright is the town development manager for Southwold, having started in April Picture: HANNAH

Hannah Wright is the town development manager for Southwold - Credit: Hannah Wright

“You only have to go down the high street and there’s always a queue of people outside. 

“Particularly when you take into account the majority of residents in Southwold are over 60, a lot of them rely on going into a bank. They like that face-to-face contact. 

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“I think it would be devastating for the town if we lost the only bank there."

Woodbridge councillor Caroline Page, said:  “Things which are best handled by bank staff are going to become very difficult for people who don’t use mobile phones as the first port of call or in places that the phone may not be useful as there isn’t a very good signal. 

“In Woodbridge when the NatWest bank closed, the cash machine went with it so it’s a double whammy because you’re losing your counter service but you’re also losing a way to get money when the counter service is not open. 

“It’s not only affecting the people who rely on the counter service, it’s affecting the people who would rather use cash than pay by card. 

“I think it’s another example of how to lose people from the high street, because people come into town, they go to their bank, to do their shopping and you remove the bank from the equation then you might find people do everything online."

Cllr Caroline Page

Cllr Caroline Page - Credit: Archant

Bury St Edmunds has lost 40% of its banks since 2015, with 12 remaining in the town.

Mark Cordell, from Bury Business Improvement District (BID), said: “We’re not immune from this, but Bury has fundamentally got most of the main high street banks and a number of building societies. 

“It does concern me that the older people in society are going to be more likely to keep cash at home which makes them more vulnerable to criminality. 

Mark Cordell, CEO at ourburystedmunds BID

Mark Cordell, CEO at ourburystedmunds BID - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

“Although I understand the banks make their individual decisions based on each case and far more services are available online, I think the older population are less likely to be utilising online banking, and therefore these changes will have a detrimental effect on their quality of life. 

“It is a concerning trend, and who knows how far it’s going to go. 

“We, as the organisation that represents town centre businesses want as many different reasons to be available for people to come, so if more closures were to affect banks in Bury that would have a detrimental effect on us and would be one less reason to come here. 

“There would then be more vacant units in the town which is something we’re keen to avoid but I’m confident we’d be able to deal with that and there’d be other businesses to take up those vacancies." 

Ipswich, while currently having 11 banks, has lost 45% of branches since 2015.

Leader of Ipswich Borough Council, councillor David Ellesmere, said: “Like all towns, Ipswich has lost bank branches as many of their customers move to online banking. It is important that banks and building societies keep a physical presence for those customers who are not able to access online services and I would expect Ipswich, as a commercial centre, to retain many of its remaining branches.

"A large proportion of the branches that have closed over the years have now found successful alternative uses and this highlights the need for us to be flexible as the pace of change on the high street accelerates.”

West Suffolk has nine branches remaining, losing 40% since 2015, while Waveney, which has 12 branches, only losing 29.4%. South Suffolk has seven branches, losing 36.4%, with Harwich and North Essex having just five branches remaining, losing 61.5%. 

Colchester has lost 31.6%, leaving 13 branches remaining.

Nationally, Banks and building societies have closed (or scheduled the closure) of 4,851 branches since January 2015, at a rate of around 54 each month. 

Leader of Ipswich Borough Council David Ellesmere

Leader of Ipswich Borough Council David Ellesmere - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND