Rural Issues Surface As Northern Bank Branches To Close
THE Northern Bank has decided to close two local branches in Co Down. Crossgar and Rathfriland are scheduled to close their doors by November a bank spokesperson said.
Speaking to Down News, he said that the bank will proceed with the closures and that their customers can access online banking services to offset this. He added that the Crossgar customers could use the branch in Downpatrick which is close by and the Rathfriland customers could use the Newry or Castlewellan branches. It is understood that across Co Down there are currently 22 branches outside of Belfast located in provincial towns.
SDLP Rowallene Councillor Maria McCarthy has written directly to the Chief Executive of the Northern Bank requesting he rethinks the closure of the bank in October. Cllr McCarthy said, “The bank in Crossgar is an integral part of the not only the business, but the entire community.
“I was deeply surprised to learn of the impending closure of the bank which is occurring, as I understand it, without consultation with the community or staff. While I understand no staff members will lose there job due to transfers to other branches, this news will have a substantial impact on both businesses and customers.
“I know from personal experience the bank is thriving and very popular in the town. Many businesses in Crossgar lodge daily in the bank, and they will now have to drive to Downpatrick or Saintfield. The bank is also convenient and necessary for many collecting pensions and benefits.
“While I have received correspondence from the Northern Bank detailing the closure and outlining support for customers, I am concerned over the reasons why the branch will be closed. I understand the branch is not being closed due to popularity or usage figures but rather locality. This is deeply frustrating as Crossgar branch provides a first class service with excellent staff, who have a great rapport with their customers.
“I have made strong representations to the Northern Bank requesting a consultation be carried out and asking for the bank’s protocol or criteria for closing branches.
“I firmly believe rural towns like Crossgar should have equal access to services and facilities. With the town itself growing and a number of new housing developments securing planning permission, the need for the bank and continuation of financial services is evident. It is important for the vitality of the business community in Crossgar that this branch remains open.”
Wells Concerned Over Bank Branch Closures
“I am extremely concerned that the Northern Bank has announced that it intends to close its Rathfriland branch on 18th November.
“This is a severe blow to the economy of the area and the decision will cause considerable inconvenience to both personal and business customers.
“The Northern Bank has told its customers that they can use their telephone and Internet services, but many older account holders either don’t have access to computers or prefer the personal service offered by a local branch.
“The business community have to use a branch to make cash lodgements. If they wish to remain with the Northern Bank they will be forced to travel to Banbridge or Newry.
“I am also very concerned that the Northern have confirmed to me in writing that it has no plans to retain an ATM in Rathfriland after their branch closes. This is a very harsh decision which will make the branch closure even more inconvenient for their customers’.
“There are two other banks in Rathfriland and there must now be a real worry that at least one of these will now follow the Northern and consider the option of closure. Banks not only provide an essential service to the community but also draw people into Rathfriland where they buy goods and services from other local shops and businesses.
“I am seeking an immediate meeting with the Northern Bank in an attempt to persuade them not to close such an essential service for Rathfriland”.
McCallister Calls For Meeting With Northern Bank
South Down UUP MLA John McCallister has spoken of his shock and concern after last week’s closure announcement of Crossgar and Rathfriland branches of the Northern Bank. He said, “The closure of the two banks will greatly inconvenience many people in the local towns.’
“For the elderly who may not be able to use online banking it is a great ask to expect them to travel to Downpatrick and Banbridge, especially if transport isn’t readily available to them.’
“Although I do welcome the news that no staff with be made redundant as a result of these mergers.”
Mr McCallister added, “Facilities such as banks and Post Offices are at the heart of any community, especially rural towns. They attract shoppers into the town centre and I fear such a reduction of services will have a huge impact on the other businesses in the towns.
“I have requested an urgent meeting the Northern Bank in an attempt to persuade them not to take this course of action,” added Mr McCallister.
Ritchie Vows To Fight Crossgar Bank Closure
SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie has voiced her support for the continuation of the Northern Bank branch in Crossgar.
Ms Ritchie said, “It is entirely unacceptable that the Northern Bank intends to close the doors of the Crossgar branch in October 2011.
The bank in Crossgar serves a large rural population and is an extremely efficient and busy branch. The business community rely heavily on the service provided by the bank, not to mention residential customers. Many of whom have had their personal accounts with Crossgar for their whole life.
“I understand accounts will be transferred directly to Downpatrick. The Northern Bank have not however taken into consideration the heavy traffic Downpatrick experiences and the additional charges for parking which customers will face. I do not believe the consequences for the rural community of Crossgar have been properly examined by the Northern Bank. Customers should come first for the bank and this decision will not only inconvenience many but will detrimentally affect businesses in the town.
“I have made representations to Gerry Mallon, Chief Executive, and have also requested a meeting with the Chief Executive, to discuss the immediate review and reversal of this decision. The entire community of Crossgar are concerned and shocked by this news and it is imperative that the Northern Bank allows the continuation of the branch,” aded Ms Ritchie.