RESIDENTS of Newtown St Boswells have been left reeling by news that the Royal Bank of Scotland intends closing its branch in the village.
A note has been posted in the branch premises notifying passers-by that it will cease trading at the beginning of October, leaving Newtown with just a single Bank of Scotland branch. RBS customers who want to visit a branch in person will have to travel to Earlston or Melrose.
A spokesman for RBS told TheSouthern this week that the reason for the closure was due to reducing usage of branch facilities by customers. “Basically, not enough people are using it,” he said, adding that no other Borders branches were currently under threat and that there would be no job losses as a result of the Newtown closure.
The branch shutdown will come about 18 months after the village sub-post office was closed – albeit a postal facility was then opened in the nearby Scottish Borders Council HQ to compensate.
But what has caused dismay in many quarters is that the local authority’s much-vaunted regeneration plan for the centre of Newtown is currently out to consultation. The proposals include retail units, and there are also plans for 1,200 new homes, quadrupling the village’s size.
The bank closure was discussed at Tuesday night’s meeting of the local community council.
Secretary Roger French said: “No-one had any warning this was about to happen. As an RBS customer I received a letter a few weeks ago saying, in the interests of improving customer service, all customer calls were being transferred to Edinburgh and that I would no longer be able to phone my local branch – but that’s been it.
“The community council was very disappointed to hear about the closure and I was instructed to write to the bank and express our concerns.”
Mr French pointed out that with 1,000 employees working at SBC headquarters in the village, John Swan & Sons’ livestock mart and all the business this brought into the village, coupled with the plans for new homes, it seemed a bizarre time to close the local RBS branch.
“It has come as a real shock to find out RBS is pulling out of the village just like that,” added Mr French.
Swan’s managing director Jack Clark said the livestock auctioneering company – which has its own well-known plans for expansion in the village – will be one of the local RBS branch’s main customers.
“And one would have thought, with all these plans Scottish Borders Council has put forward for the regeneration of Newtown, that no-one would have been expecting the bank to do this. No doubt the bank will have its own reasons for this decision, but many of our customers will have found it very handy being able to do their banking with RBS at a branch just yards away from our market,” he said, adding: “As far as we are concerned we’ll have to look at the bigger picture.”
Eoin Frame, who runs the village newsagents, said shutting the bank branch was another blow for the village in the wake of the sub-post office closure.
“I have big, big concerns about this. We’ve been told we can take our money to the branches in Melrose or Earlston, but I’m not sure how many people will be keen to be transporting possibly large sums of cash that distance,” said Mr Frame.
“And it is hardly a great endorsement of the major plans to regenerate the village centre,” he added.