HOPES of returning more banking services to County Durham was given a boost earlier today after a new ‘bank hub’ project was announced to help “isolated” communities that have little or no access to financial services in the region.

As part of the new initiative, major banks have agreed to join forces and share services to help people and businesses continue to access cash – preventing them from often travelling 30-40 miles away to visit their ‘local branch’.

Barclays, HSBC UK, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide Building Society, NatWest, Santander UK, TSB and Danske Bank have agreed to the new approach, with some other firms also considering joining. 

Read more: Bank branch closures should be paused immediately, says Which?

The collaboration, achieved through the Access to Cash Action Group (CAG), signals a long-term commitment to ensuring widespread cash and banking access for communities where services are limited.

Today’s announcement comes at a time when, locally, banks are facing mass closures. In Newton Aycliffe, it was confirmed earlier this month that TSB on Greenwell Road would close its doors in May 2022. 

As recent as 2016, Newton Aycliffe boasted the likes of Santander, Natwest, TSB, Barclays, and Halifax – but over the last five years, they’ve left one by one, leaving just Halifax and the Post Office as the only options for people to access a physical banking service.

The Northern Echo: TSB announced earlier this month that it would close its Newton Aycliffe branch in May 2022.TSB announced earlier this month that it would close its Newton Aycliffe branch in May 2022.

George Ludson, who lives in Newton Aycliffe, has changed his bank three times in the last three years after his ‘first choice’ branches closed during that time. 

Now that TSB is closing, Mr Ludson says that the “only option” is to either go to Bishop Auckland (an eight-mile journey) or Durham (a 13-mile journey) to access his money. 

He said: “It’s shocking, the local picture of banking now. I remember when Newton Aycliffe had a lot of banks, but no longer.

“The banks are pushing people to go for online banking and mobile banking when they might not even want that. There’s no consideration whatsoever for the average person on the street.”

The Northern Echo: Figures show that cash use is 35 per cent down compared to pre-pandemic levels.Figures show that cash use is 35 per cent down compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Despite losing banks on the high street in Newton Aycliffe, the option to bring a ‘bank hub’ to the town has been welcomed by many today. 

Under the project, it means that if a bank involved in the initiative decides to close a branch, it will inform ATM network, Link.

Link will independently assess what the closure means for the people of that area, looking at the community, including its residents and businesses. It will consider whether a new solution is needed, including refurbishing a Post Office branch or introducing a bank hub. 

Read more: Calls for banks to team up in rural sites

Each bank may offer its own services from a hub, on different days of the week. Communities will also be able to request a review of their community’s needs from Summer 2022.

Mayor of Great Aycliffe Town Council, Cllr Sandra Haigh, has welcomed the recent developments on ‘bank hubs’ and hopes that it helps those living in her area. 

She said: “It would be a huge positive for Newton Aycliffe if these facilities came along. There’s plenty of space within the town where these places could go but having only one bank come May next year is unacceptable, and something needs doing. 

The Northern Echo: Cllr Sandra Haigh, Mayor of Great Aycliffe Town CouncilCllr Sandra Haigh, Mayor of Great Aycliffe Town Council

Another area that has been affected by bank closures is Weardale. Stanhope is the only town in the dale to have a bank – without it, people would have to travel to Crook or across county to Alston. The branch proves a lifeline for many.

In recent times, Barclays in Crook and Halifax in Consett have become other victims of banking closures within County Durham.

As well as local councillors praising the ‘bank hubs’, MPs in County Durham have also cited the “vital impact” these new services could play in the future.

The Northern Echo: Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham.Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham.

Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham, said: “This is a welcome move for the towns, villages and communities I serve across North West Durham, who have been losing their vital over-the-counter banking services at pace in recent decades. 

“Collaboration is, without doubt, the way forward – and so this shared service model is eminently sensible and will provide greater access to cash and services are maintained well into the future, and so I back this idea.”

Nationally, cash use has been in decline in recent years – a trend accelerated and exacerbated by the pandemic – with current use 35 per cent below pre-Covid levels, according to banking groups. 

Read more: HSBC branch closures branded 'appalling' and 'a great shame' for Northallerton and Richmond

However, they also acknowledge that millions of people across the UK still use cash daily.

Natalie Ceeney, chair of the Access to Cash Action Group, added: “We know that demand for cash is declining, but we also know that it continues to play a vital part in the lives of at least five million people in the UK – including some of the most vulnerable in society.”

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