Revealed: The rate at which our banks are disappearing
- Credit: David Hannant
New figures lay bare the decline of high street bank branches, with numbers in some parts of the region falling by more than a half in less than a decade.
Data from the Consumers' Association - publisher of Which? - shows the number of branches across the UK has declined from 9,807 in 2015, to 5,154 today, and provides a breakdown of where the closures have occurred.
Worst affected are rural areas and the new data has further fuelled fears that the loss of such amenities from towns and villages is damaging to local communities, and especially their elderly residents.
The biggest decline in our region was in north Norfolk, which has lost 59pc of its branches and has just nine remaining.
South west Norfolk has lost 50pc and has seven left, while Broadland has lost 46pc and also has seven remaining.
Further closures are in the pipeline after HSBC announced plans to shut a further 69 of its branches, including one in Stowmarket.
Jenny Ross, money editor with Which?, said: "There has been an alarming number of bank branch closures in recent years, and many consumers who rely on banks to access cash for everyday essentials and face-to-face services will be concerned about what these latest closures mean for them.
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“While many consumers now choose to bank digitally, millions of people are not yet ready or able to take that step. The banking industry’s proposals to protect access to cash must keep them in mind, and need to be underpinned by legislation."
Cath Crowther, regional director of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), said: “Rural communities continue to face a number of distinct challenges compared to their urban counterparts.
“The lack of available and affordable homes in rural areas, and a larger gap between house prices and wages, has resulted in young people having to move to urban areas, which not only has knock-on effect for local employers but has led to a reduction in key rural services and amenities, such as public transport, banks, schools, and pubs, which continues to hold back the economies of rural areas.
“The CLA is campaigning for a pragmatic approach to house-building in rural areas. Many villages could benefit enormously from small scale developments, providing affordable homes to local people and, as a consequence, strengthening the fabric of the local economy and community.”
One of the first closures which brought the issue to the fore in Norfolk came when Heacham, Britain's second largest village with more than 5,000 inhabitants, lost its only bank when Barclays closed its branch at the end of the High Street more than 20 years ago.
Local builder and former borough councillor Marcus Liddington campaigned against the closure, saying it would leave villagers "disadvantaged". He said his fears had been proved well founded.
"We now have an even higher elderly population than we had then," he said. "A lot of the elderly people can't get to Hunstanton.
"A lot of them are not keen on internet banking. They're disproportionately affected. It just seems to be the norm to close banks now."
That campaign was supported by the Campaign for Community Banking Services - which itself closed down in 2017, after its founder said bank closures were unstoppable.
HSBC said it continues to close banks as customers switch their business online. In January last year, the bank announced 82 previous closures.
It said less than 50pc of its customers now regularly use its branch network, with footfall dropping sharply over the past five years.
Jackie Uhi, head of HSBC UK's branch network, said: "The way people bank is changing - something the pandemic has accelerated.
"Our branches continue to support people with their more complex banking needs, but the way we can do this has also evolved, with the addition of banking hubs, community pop ups and continued use of the Post Office network."