Closures hit town

BALLYMONEY traders and the local community have hit out at news that the Bank of Ireland (UK) is closing its High Street branch.

It is believed the Ballymoney premises is due to close between May and June of this year and is one of nine branches being closed in Northern Ireland.

One of the many businesses affected by the news is Ballymoney Borough Council and Chamber of Commerce who have accounts with the Bank.

A Council spokesperson said: “Council has enjoyed a good relationship with the Bank of Ireland for many years. The closure of the local branch will have implications for council with regard to, for example, its cash lodgements.

“Officials have arranged to meet with the bank to discuss the implications for the operation of its accounts.”

Meanwhile Ballymoney Chamber President, Winnifred Mellet also expressed her disappointment stating: “A number of businesses have been in touch with me regarding the closure of the Ballymoney branch of the BOI. It is disappointing that the news report of the branch closure was the first indication the chamber or those traders who bank with them knew of the decision. In addition to the BOI there are three other banks and a building society in the town centre. While banking has changed in recent years with a number of businesses doing on-line banking, this decision sees another town centre business premises close, reduced employment in the town centre and difficulties for those businesses who lodge cash regularly with the bank.”

The closures will reduce the number of Bank of Ireland UK branches in Northern Ireland from 44 to 35. However the bank has confirmed that there will be no enforced job losses and staff will either be redeployed to other branches or can avail of an existing voluntary redundancy scheme.

The bank also said that the branches earmarked for closure account for around 7% of the business conducted by the network in Northern Ireland.

Bank of Ireland added that it is investing £10m in its branch network, including a refurbishment of 18 branches.

Sean Sheehan, Regional Manager NI, explained: “To help deliver our strategy for Northern Ireland we are investing in a modern branch network that provides customers with easy access to banking services and is fully integrated with our online, phone and mobile channels.

“As part of that investment, we have already opened a new branch, City Hall Branch in Belfast city centre, and upgraded nine branches. We also have to ensure that the network is cost-effective and fit for purpose. We understand that closing branches is disappointing for those who use them but the volume of business at the branches involved means they are not sustainable in the long term. We will continue to service those customers through larger branches which are being modernised and upgraded.”

However in a statement to the Times North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey criticised the senior management of the Bank of Ireland for their proposal.

Cllr Storey hit out: “This is a devastating blow to the customers and staff of the Bank of Ireland. The bank has sought to justify its decision by stating that the branches announced for closure amount to only 7% of business, and that they will be investing in more modern technology to deliver services.

“Cold comfort indeed for those loyal customers and staff that have given committed service and have used the bank for their business and management of their finances. Many of the customers especially those of an older generation still prefer to carry out their banking face to face with staff, for customers in Ballymoney this will no longer be the case. I think that the management of Bank of Ireland should reconsider this ill thought out plan and I will be writing to Bank of Ireland accordingly.”

Agreeing SDLP Local Representative Daniel Hendrie added: “It’s very disappointing that Bank of Ireland has decided to close branches in Ballymoney and Kilrea by June as part of its decision to close nine branches across Northern Ireland. This decision will have massive implications for staff and their families as well as having consequences for customers and businesses who rely on a dependable local service from their bank”

“This will leave customers in a situation where there is now no branch between Coleraine and Ballymena inconveniencing some while effectively forcing others to change to a different bank. This at time whenever people’s confidence in banks is at an all-time low these closures will only serve to increase the strain on people in these tough times and to further reduce people’s confidence in the banks”

“These closures will particularly hit rural areas in North Antrim hard, with small local business already facing difficult trading conditions, the closures will put an extra burden to travel further to their local branch as well as increased pressure on the staff who are being redeployed.

“I hope that Bank of Ireland will reconsider these closures, as it not only affects staff and customers but entire communities who are dependent on access to local banking facilities especially whenever hard working families and business already have their backs to the wall.

“The SDLP has written to the Irish Bank officials’ Association (IBOA) seeking a meeting and seeking clarification on issues that are causing concern for customers and staff. My party colleagues and I will continue to challenge banks of decisions such as this ensuring that there is proper access to local banking for customers.”

Meanwhile news of the closure of Blooms Florist on Victoria Street is another major blow for the town.

The popular family run business opened its doors in 1983 and was celebrating its third decade of trading. However due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’ the owners had to close up last week.