Santander bank is closing down four branches in Suffolk and North Essex - what impact will it have on these towns?
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The Spanish banking giant has become the latest bank to announce a raft of closures, including many in East Anglia.
In Suffolk, the bank branches to go include one on Market Place in Stowmarket, which will shut down on July 25.
It comes as a big blow to Stowmarket, which lost its branch of Natwest in September 2017 and its Co-op bank before that.
In Newmarket, the branch on the High Street will go on May 30.
Colchester will lose its branch on Culver Street West on November 7. However, it will keep the branch of the bank open on Colchester’s High Street, and also has a branch open at the University of Essex in Wivenhoe Park.
Santander has already closed down its only branch in Harwich - on the High Street - which shut last September.
And also in Essex, in South Woodham Ferrers, the branch on Chandlers Way will close its doors for good on May 2.
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Felixstowe’s Santander customers can breathe a sigh of relief that they will be keeping their branch, which has recently been refurbished.
About 60 bank branches are closing every month according to the consumer group Which? It found that 2,868 branches will have closed between 2015 and the end of 2018, and called the trend “alarming.”
The exodus of the banks mean that some Suffolk towns are now being left with no bank at all - including Aldeburgh, which is losing its last bank, a branch of Barclays, in March.
And Halesworth has gone from having three banks just three years ago, to now having none at all - not even a 24 hour cash machine.
Locals accuse the banks of abandoning them, but the banks say their branches are being under used as more and more people bank online.
Andrew Stringer, a Suffolk County Councillor based in Stowmarket, said he felt that a number of people who can’t access digital means are being “squeezed out further and further”.
“This won’t affect the general population, but it will make life a lot more difficult for the vulnerable and also for charities and parish councils, as banks provide services that they really need to operate,” he said.
“Luckily, there has been a significant improvement in broadband signals in our area in recent years. But a surprising number of people still don’t have devices in order to access the internet - including my own mother and father. Yes, they could use the computer in the library, but the problem is they’re not computer literate.”
While other banks still operate in Stowmarket, Cllr Stringer also points out the difficulty involved in changing from one bank account to another - “I know this from personal experience,” he said. “In this brave new digital world, things seem to get more difficult instead of easier. Often, people just need face to face contact, to see someone in a bank branch, in order to explain what it is that they need.”
Carol Eagles of the Mid Suffolk Citizens Advice Bureau, which is based in Stowmarket, said she thought the move would particularly affect the self employed, as well as the more vulnerable members of society.
“They need to pay in their takings - we are a rural community, and people can’t necessarily travel to Bury Saint Edmunds or Ipswich easily.”
Simon Burton, a window clearer who lives in Combs Ford in Stowmarket, explained that he had moved in recent years from banking with Lloyds TSB to Natwest and then, when that closed, on to Santander. “I pay in about 15 cheques a month, mostly from my elderly customers, and it will be them that will be most affected by this bank closure,” he explained. “I will probably now just stop accepting cheques from now on.
“I’m not surprised they’re closing - I suspect all the banks in Stowmarket will be gone in the next five years, the way things are going. But it’s still disappointing.”
But Peter Brady, the chief executive of one of Stowmarket’s leading companies, Orbital Media, was more optimistic. “My hope is that technology can now play a part in helping to revive and transform these important community spaces,” he said.