A CUT in opening hours at a Middleton in Teesdale bank - due to be implemented next month - prompted users to seek reassurances that it is not a precursor to closure.

At a public meeting on Tuesday chaired by Diane Spark, project manager of Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services (UTASS), members asked her if anything was to be done about the proposed two-days-a-week closure of the Barclays branch.

Residents wondered why more people were not at the meeting, but Ms Spark said it had been called at short notice after Barclays gave a choice of two dates. They had later backed out, although members of the public could go and meet them on bank premises.

There was concern that when the bank closed for two days a week it might be the precursor to total closure.

Reference was made to a letter from Barclays which stated: "At this moment in time the business is sustainable on a three days a week basis." Residents wanted Ms Spark to find out at what point in time would Barclays consider it unsustainable.

Durham county Coun John Shuttleworth, who fought against closure at St John's Chapel four years ago, spoke on behalf of his Teesdale counterpart, Coun Alan Scott, who is in hospital.

"These people could not care less," he said. "If you lose the bank two days a week, it will not be long before you lose it for the rest."

He suggested writing to Teesdale District Council, asking the authority to threaten moving its account from Barclays if the branch came under threat of closure.

The bank also stated that the Middleton branch had shown a 78pc decrease in customers through the door. But residents questioned this and asked Ms Spark to find out over what time period this had occurred.

Coun Richard Betton, who represents Middleton on the district council, told how a sale at Tuesday's auction mart would probably see £250,000 in cheques paid into the branch.

"But when the breeding sales take place it can be as much as £750,000," he said, adding that these were regular sales.

He made the point that Barclays had said night safe facilities would be available when the branch reduced its hours. But he felt this could work against the community, because businesses would deposit their takings instead of calling into the branch, reducing "foot-fall" further.

Ms Spark was asked to find out if Barclays would give a guarantee that it was not the intention to close the branch altogether and if no guarantee was forthcoming to raise the other questions brought up at the meeting.