Bank bosses refused to back down on closing a market town branch.
The ‘crushing disappointment’ hit business and community leaders in Neston where the NatWest branch, at the historic town’s Cross, will close in March.
Local councillors and Neston’s Chamber of Trade pitched up at a meeting with NatWest chiefs backed by a 750-name petition and hoping for a discussion on possible alternatives to the complete closure of the branch.
But the four-strong team from the bank made it clear there would be no U-turn.
Their intention was to discuss ways to help the local community with the transition over the next three months towards the closure.
The meeting was sought by Neston Town Council which was represented by Cllr Martin Barker, former town mayor and chairman of the council’s town centre committee) and town centre manager Katy Pierce.
Echoing reasons given for the closure of the town’s Cheshire Building Society branch, the bank said the number of transactions had dropped by 11% over the last few years when it announced the closure.
At the meeting it argued it had a duty to protect the government’s investment in the business by ensuring that its operations were streamlined and efficient.
Future investment had to be in locations that saw the most activity and there had been no investment in technology in Neston for some years.
The 1,000 transactions a week were not considered sufficient to avoid the closure and further investment in technology in-branch within the area would likely go towards Ellesmere Port.
NatWest explained that ahead of the closure staff would be on-hand to advise customers on the alternatives, including using the Post Office in the town and going online or mobile for banking needs.
Cllr Barker said after the meeting: “It is very disappointing that the decision is already made and that we were unable to change that, despite what we felt were strong arguments for reconsideration, including looking at alternatives to total closure such as shorter opening hours.
“We took with us a petition of 754 signatures from local people, organised by Paul Smith, landlord of the Brewers Arms and we would like to thank them and everyone else who has shown support for our efforts to alter the situation.”
With Neston fighting to boost footfall in the town centre, he added: “As a council we will continue to try and negotiate in situations like this.
“We would hope that in future any such business decisions that have a potential impact on the fortunes of the town might be reached through consultation before the event.”
Cheshire West and Chester councillor Louise Gittins (Lab, Little Neston & Burton), who also attended the meeting, commented: “It is a very sad decision as it increases social isolation, particularly for the elderly and disabled who will find it very difficult if not impossible to travel to the next nearest branch, given the lack of adequate transport provision.
“Visiting the bank is also, for some people, a regular opportunity to engage with other people, that they now face losing.”
At the chamber of trade, representative Carrie Spacey said: “It is crushingly disappointing that, yet again, a big business has looked solely at the bottom line.
“Also that they are willing to take three months now to tell us how to find the Post Office or go online, but took no time at all to consult locally prior to the announcement.”
She added: “None of us expect such a business to act as a charity, but some intelligent solutions in the future such as looking at alternative ways to keep local branches viable by integrating them within other businesses, would be a refreshing change.
“Many businesses in Neston who currently rely on the branch to pay in or withdraw large quantities of cash now face considerable inconvenience with queues at the Post Office or having to travel to another town, as examples.
“With time being money, especially for smaller businesses, this will be deeply felt.
“As the owner of a small local business myself, I have no interest in having the name of another town on my cheque books and statements, so I will be switching to another bank.”
The building will be placed on the open market as soon as the branch closes and signage will be removed.
NatWest says it is willing to work closely with the town council to offer the use of the building to local community organisations or pop-up shops as a stop gap to avoid the building being empty for any length of time.
The cash machine outside will remain for the time being but its future location is open to negotiation.