MORE pressure needs to be put on banks to stop them closing branches.
That’s the message from MP Caroline Dinenage who says she will lead the fight to prevent banks pulling out of towns and villages, leaving communities cut off and forcing businesses to move out.
It follows HSBC closing its Lee-on-the-Solent branch in December, the only bank in the village, and NatWest announcing that it intends to close its branches in Leigh Park, Stubbington and Portchester later this year.
Places like Emsworth, Eastney and Portchester only have one bank left and while their future is not under threat, villagers remain worried.
Gosport MP Ms Dinenage has raised the issue in parliament twice and organised meetings with the major banks to urge them to do more to consult the public on these closures.
She said: ‘I will continue to keep the pressure up not only on the banks but also on the government.
‘These are individual companies but where their closure leaves a whole community without banking services then it is inexcusable.’
Portchester traders are fearful that this latest round of bank closures, which leaves just one bank in the district, will impact on the viability of the shopping precinct.
Kevin Butcher, chairman of the Portchester Traders’ Association, said: ‘It is very sad.
‘There’s a lot of older people in Portchester and you can’t pay cash into a computer.
‘The Post Office often has big queues and the older people of Portchester don’t want to get a bus to Fareham to do their banking.
‘We still have one bank but it is not good.
‘If that goes, like the one in Leigh Park will do, it will be the death knell for the shops in Portchester.
‘Several businesses are already having to rethink how they will continue in the future.’
In a little over a year, Emsworth has gone from having four banks to just one.
Barclays, Lloyds and Nationwide left the town centre, leaving only NatWest.
There has been no announcement about the future of NatWest, but local traders say they will fight tooth and nail to keep it.
Giles Babb, chairman of Emsworth Business Association, said: ‘It’s vital NatWest stays open in Emsworth.
‘One of the reasons people visit the town is to do their banking.
‘Having lost banks already, if NatWest goes it could have a serious effect on the town centre’s viability.
‘Unfortunately there is a change in the way people do their banking, but especially for local businesses, there is a need for a high street bank.’
Other areas such as North End in Portsmouth have also seen their NatWest close.
Business secretary Vince Cable wants to work on a deal where the last banks in any town will be helped by the government under certain circumstances, such as helping to provide alternative banking arrangements.
Despite the promise of government help on the horizon, many traders and residents are worried that this will see high streets turn into housing and lead to the loss of community facilities.
The banks said a drop in people using branch services, as more people use internet banking, is the reason for the closures, which according to campaigners have seen around half of the UK’s bank branches close since 1989.
It’s not all dire straits, as many banks are hoping to share counter service facilities with the Post Office.
A PETITION with more than 1,000 signatures could not keep HSBC open in Lee-on-the-Solent.
Traders and residents campaigned last year to get the last branch in the area to remain open but it closed its doors on November 28.
Karen Jones, owner of GemCo Essentials on High Street, said: ‘Campaigning is a lost cause. It is like hitting your head on a brick wall.
‘If they want to close, they will close no matter what.’