New push for banking hub in Harpenden
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More needs to be done to introduce alternative facilities in bank-strapped Harpenden, says a leading campaigner on the subject.
Santander, NatWest, Lloyds and Halifax have already left the town, Barclays has reduced its opening hours, and only HSBC has yet to slash its services.
With the approval of Barclays Bank the freeholders of the High Street block the local branch occupies successfully submitted an application to convert the premises into three smaller shops - including one on Leyton Green - with nine flats above.
Campaigner Derek French said: "Locally, we have seen the closure of four of the town's six banks (three premises remain empty and available) together with five of our ATMs reducing town centre capacity for cash access which is important on events days such as Classics on the Common.
"Barclays' application to convert the premises into shop units was approved, incidentally the plans show doors where the ATM is now, and Barclays will give no firm commitment to occupy one of the small shop units with even a reduced service. In the meantime opening hours have been reduced so that there is no opening at all on Thursdays and Saturdays and access to the counter closes at 2pm.
"Whenever there is a staffing difficulty, for example cases of Covid, the branch does not open. The writing is on the wall. HSBC Harpenden did not appear on the latest list of 69 HSBC closures but HSBC is coming under criticism for the reduced service offering at its 172 'cash services branches' which is the status of HSBC Harpenden.
"All the indications are that a hub is not recommended until the 'last bank in town' is announced for closure by when it is too late as the banks have failed to reinstate and publicise the ability for businesses to pay in at a remaining bank for branches of other banks which was common practice.
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"Natalie Ceeney who chairs the industry's Cash Action Group is on record as saying that campaigns to protect the 'last bank in town' miss the point. Protecting a service serving fewer than a third of a community (or less) is not serving the community well. Customers rarely switch banks (in these circumstances) so those who are not customers of the 'last bank' lose out and the last bank does not pick up much business. Instead we need a new approach."
Harpenden Society vice chair Jeff Phillips said: "The continued closure of banks and the removal of cash machines from our High Streets is now a national scandal, and Harpenden is now suffering.
"Lloyds follows Santander, the Halifax and NatWest and it is likely that Barclays will also close in the near future leaving empty premises galore.
"For the last two years the Chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised legislation on retail banking provision, but has produced absolutely nothing. 70 MPs having signed an open letter stating that legislation is vital, as it is the only way to force the banks to work together to deliver local banking hubs."
Harpenden Town Council is also involved in the campaign.
Town clerk Carl Cheevers said: "We are concerned about the diminishing face to face banking services in the town and wrote to the economic secretary in February this year.
"We are hoping for some new legislation to give some regulatory oversight and provide greater opportunity/emphasis on banking hubs
"In May we are setting up a formal Harpenden Banking Hub working group as part of our governance structure to do the leg work needed to get one set up in the town. This will be town council-led but will bring together key community stakeholders to work in partnership to make it happen."
Harpenden MP Bim Afolami said: "As the chair of the all-party Parliamentary group on financial markets and services, I am in regular communication with both industry and the Treasury to campaign for improved access to cash and in-person, High Street banking in our communities.
"In Westminster, I have been campaigning for banking hubs in Harpenden, which would enable several banks to share the same facilities while ensuring that residents retain access to suitable banking services for their needs. Last year I wrote to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury about this and I am engaging further with industry on the issue."