Harpenden's disappearing banks - will Barclays be next?

The Barclays Bank branch in Harpenden.

The Barclays Bank branch in Harpenden. - Credit: Matt Adams

The future of banking in Harpenden remains uncertain, with fears two more local branches may close.

Santander, NatWest and Halifax have already left the town, and Barclays and Lloyds could soon be following suit.

With the approval of Barclays Bank the freeholders of the High Street block the local branch occupies have submitted an application to convert the premises into three smaller shops - including one on Leyton Green - with nine flats above.

Barclays' Harpenden branch already has restricted opening hours and only four onsite staff members, and it is argued that the building must evolve and adapt to keep up with the changing role of high streets.

But the planning application also suggests Lloyds will be vacating its premises when the lease comes to an end early in 2022.

Halifax in Harpenden is closing this week.

Halifax in Harpenden is closing this week. - Credit: Matt Adams

It states: "If these buildings are not modernised or allowed to adapt to these changing times, it would result in large amounts of vacant floor space and inactive frontages in the town centre. The proposal addresses this issue by providing smaller and more desirable flexible shopping units."

A local source, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Herts Ad: "The bank sold the block to an investor in 2005 but retained a form of lease that put the bank in the driving seat. It also makes clear, and it may well be the same freeholder as Harpenden town centre only has a few, that Lloyds will follow the Halifax example and leave the town early in 2022 at the end of their current lease.

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"All this stacks up with the national trend but no-one thought it could happen to Harpenden this soon. It will leave a previously six banks town, with the dependent two villages of Wheathampstead and Redbourn, with only two banks and both with limited service capability and this only if Barclays do relocate their already restricted service into one of the new shop units.

"Obviously it all depends on the planners but they will find it difficult to refuse on planning grounds alone and the trend is clear anyway."

The former Santander branch in Harpenden remains empty.

The former Santander branch in Harpenden remains empty. - Credit: Matt Adams

Harpenden councillor Mary Maynard said: "This planning application will be assessed by St Albans district council in terms of planning law, not the historic use of the space as a bank. National planning rules encourage vibrant High Streets with a mix of retail businesses and residential.

"This application will increase the number of retail businesses and offer much needed homes. It seems likely that Barclays will not extend their lease in the current space, it is too big. That is a matter for the bank and its customers.

"It may be that a smaller space will better suit their needs and we will continue to have a branch in town. Harpenden is not a bubble, we are impacted by social and commercial trends, just like every other town in the country.

"High Street banking has changed dramatically in the last six years, changes that have been turbocharged by Covid. Between January 2015 and March 2020 a third of High Street bank branches closed, and those closures are likely to escalate, driven by the move to internet banking and a cashless society

"A concern has always been that older and vulnerable people will struggle to get access to cash and advice as banks and indeed most other services become virtual. This will need to be monitored in our community, as we cannot allow people to fall behind in this way."

A spokesperson for the Harpenden Society added: "The recent closures of Santander and Halifax and the potential curtailment of services at Barclays and Lloyds are bound to have a negative impact on High Street footfall.

"The closure of the Post Office in Station Road two years ago and the subsequent loss of footfall was a prime example of a banking closure. It left many retailers with significantly reduced trade.

"As longstanding supporters of a thriving High Street the Harpenden Society hopes that the banks will work together to create a joint banking service on the High Street to ensure that residents are not left ‘bankless’."