Northern Bank announces local branch closures

AFTER more than a hundred years of service, the historic red brick Northern Bank building in Portrush will go up for sale next year when the branch closes.

As part of a wider cost cutting exercise, the Danish owned bank plans to close the Main Street landmark on Friday, March 9, 2012, along with a second north coast branch at the Promenade in Portstewart. Accounts will automatically transfer to Coleraine.

Given the high volume of business enjoyed by the branch ATM, Northern Bank is to keep its Portrush cash dispenser open until the end of the summer when new sites will be found for both the Portrush and Portstewart machines.

A spokesman for the bank said they had already written to customers prior to the announcement. Stephen Bloomfield, Acting Managing Director of Retail & Private Banking, explained: “After very careful and thorough consideration we have decided to close these two branches.

“We know some customers will be disappointed by this news and would encourage them to come and talk to us about how we can best continue to meet their banking needs. We’re making it a priority to make the transition to the new branch and to other ways of banking with us, as straightforward as possible for our customers.

“In reviewing our branch network we have considered how customers are using the branch, other branches in the area, the increasing popularity of other methods of banking, the impact on our customers and whether or not the branch is sustainable for the future of banking. In that assessment, our branches in Portstewart and Portrush have been found to be less sustainable than others.

“Over recent years the banking habits of consumers, and our customers, have changed – with many preferring to use other ways of managing their finances rather than relying solely on the branch.

“Increasingly, customers are turning to the efficiency and convenience of conducting their day to day banking over the telephone, online or through mobile banking on a smart phone. Our industry, along with many others, is adapting with innovations in technology and we are responding to consumer expectations of a modern, progressive bank.”

According to the spokesperson, no staff will be made redundant as a result of the branch closures and all will transfer to Coleraine which will undergo refurbishment over the coming months.

Local politicians have been quick to express their disappointment at the announced closures, with many decrying the loss of yet another business support service. First Trust closed itws Portrush and Portstewart branches over five years ago leaving only the Ulster Bank with a presence in the busy tourist towns.

Alliance councillor, Barney Fitzpatrick, described the news as “a sign of the times” but said he was grateful that Danske Group had taken the sensible decision to retain ATM services in the resorts.

North coast TUV representative, Dessie Stewart, said he was “shocked” at the news and planned to raise the matter with party MLA Jim Alistair. “This will be a bitter blow to not only local residents but all the small businesses and thousands of visitors who rely on the bank for a number of both daily and tourist services.”

DUP Skerries councillor, Mark Fielding, said: Customers will be disappointed by this news.

“When they close it leaves another vacant building in the Promenade in Portstewart and Main Street Portrush where it is a landmark and iconic building. I hope the buildings would be used again soon in some productive and meaningful way.”

Describing the news as a huge blow to the local economy, Independent MLA, David McClarty, said: “I feel the closures will impact greatly on the local people of the seaside towns.

“Particularly in Portrush and Portstewart, with its large population of older people, the presence of a bank is convenient and necessary for those who are not confident with new technology or indeed cannot make the travel arrangements to Coleraine.”

The Northern Bank’s famous castle-style building at 60 Main Street, Portrush, was designed by renowned architect Vincent Craig, and built in 1898 to serve the growing wealth of local businesses involved in the linen trade. Owned and operated by Belfast Bank, the Northern Bank became the new owners in the late 1960s when the two companies merged under the Northern Bank banner.