May 24 2013 Latest news:
Dominic Bareham, senior reporter
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
A Norfolk market town is set to lose its building society just nine months after the HSBC bank closed, leaving one remaining bank for residents.
Nationwide is set to axe the Harleston outlet, in The Thoroughfare, after conducting a distribution review which showed the number of customers using the branch was falling.
In April, the HSBC bank in Market Place also closed despite lobbying by local councillors, forcing customers to use neighbouring branches in Diss, Halesworth and Beccles. The ATM machine was also removed and the building put up for sale.
Ironically, a number of the bank’s customers had transferred their accounts to the Harleston Nationwide in the aftermath of the closure.
The building society’s decision, which means Harleston has been left with just a Barclays Bank, will force customers to travel nine miles to get to the next nearest branch in Diss.
However, the decision has angered customers who believed the Harleston Nationwide had been doing well and the decision had been taken by an employee based elsewhere who was not aware of the situation at the branch.
A spokesman for the building society said the review also considered the profitability of the branch, the proximity of other branches and the expiring lease, which will end when the branch closes at 2pm on January 31.
She said: “We apologise for any inconvenience caused. However, we have a collective responsibility to our entire membership to run the business as efficiently as possible. It is therefore, sometimes necessary to close or integrate branches due to a number of factors such as those mentioned.”
She added efforts would be made to avoid any redundancies and staff would be redeployed at nearby branches.
But one 87-year-old customer, who did not wish to be named, said whenever she visited, The Thoroughfare branch was always packed and she could not understand how customer numbers were falling when Harleston was an expanding town, including plans to build 120 homes in Mendham Lane, which were approved by South Norfolk Council in September.
She has been a member of the building society since 1983 and has a number of accounts, but said she would struggle to get to nearby branches and Diss or Beccles because she had mobility difficulties and needed to be able to park close to the branch.
The Diss branch in particular would be difficult, she said, because it was in a pedestrian zone in Mere Street and she could have to walk some distance to get to it.
“It is not about me, it is about Harleston. It is an active little town and a wonderful little place and I go there to visit the dentists and opticians and they are withdrawing from Harleston just as more houses are being built there,” she added.
Eric Bird, chairman of Harleston Town Council, said he was going to write to Nationwide asking why the decision had been taken to close the Harleston branch when the town was growing and why former HSBC customers were accepted when the building society presumably knew the branch was going to have to close.
He said: “It means the only bank we have now is Barclays and it is not good. Harleston is a growing town, it is a flourishing market town, we do a lot of business here and it is silly to have just one bank.”
In addition to around 700 branches across the UK, Nationwide has full service telephone and internet banking and savings offerings. None of the other 13 branches in Norfolk are closing.
Customers can still make deposits online or into a postal account while cash withdrawals and balance enquiries can be made at Post Offices across the country.