Thursday, 21 October 2021

Trade fears with bank axe and doubt over post office

THE chairman of Watlington Business Association says he is concerned about the town’s economy.

THE chairman of Watlington Business Association says he is concerned about the town’s economy.

Simon Jones spoke out after Barclays Bank announced it is to close the town’s branch on October 23 and postmistress Nikki Jackson suggested she might leave the business.

Mr Jones, a director of auctioneers and valuers Jones & Jacob, said he was “bitterly disappointed” at the loss of the bank in High Street.

“We think it’s a shame that our sole banking facility is closing,” he said.

“It means that every banking customer, which is all the businesses in Watlington, will either have to go to Wallingford or Thame, so that’s an hour out of your day rather than going 10 minutes around the corner.”

He said the future of the town’s post office a few doors away could be a “protracted business” after Mrs Jackson had “expressed an interest” in quitting.

Mr Jones said: “I’m not sure anybody has put themselves over the parapet to say, ‘yes, I will take it on’. I don’t think anybody is going to come forward quickly.” He described Watlington as having a “vibrant” high street with many independent shops compared with other places.

But he added: “We still want to encourage people to come to us â?? you can never have enough footfall. Of course we’re concerned but we’re not on the edge of a precipice, we’re walking towards it perhaps.”

He said that complaints to Barclays and the Post Office had effectively been ignored. Mr Jones said: “I think it’s extremely unlikely that anyone will listen to the local people who use the services and I doubt they would heed what they would say even if they did listen.”

Kevin Page, shop manager at Calnan Brothers butchers, said the shop used the bank for change.

“No one would want to see it go,” he said. “It really is a shame but I think it’s something you could sense was going to happen at some stage.” Joanna Bains, who runs Cake Makers in High Street with Loraine Hussey, said: “Barclays is our bank and we do still use it rather than internet  banking.

“The closure is one more disappointment for a high street that eveyone’s trying hard to maintain. Taking away one more reason for someone to visit the high street is going to make matters worse for us all. The positive side is that the people of Watlington seem to want to maintain their high street but it’s very hard work for the traders.”

Dorian Griffith, of estate agents Griffith & Partners, said the loss of the bank was a “disaster”.

“It’s a shame because that will be another building that will be vacant for a while and then turned into a house,” he said. “The heart of the town would be ripped out if the bank and post office closed within months of each other.”

The Post Office has said that if it did find another retailer willing to take on responsibility for the post office and relocate it, then this would be subject to a public consultation. A spokeswoman said: “We are not planning to close any post office but we do need to ensure that our branches are commercially sustainable into the future and want to work with the postmistress at Watlington to explore the best way of achieving this.”

Mark Jones, community leader for Barclays Oxford and Chilterns, said: “The way customers undertake their banking is changing as people increasingly use online, telephone and mobile devices. We must therefore evolve the shape and size of our branch network in response to changing customer behaviour.”

He said customer usage of the Watlington branch had declined by 53 per cent since 2008 and 49 per cent of customers now regularly used alternative branches. This figure was even higher for business customers.

“That is why we have taken the difficult decision to close the branch,” said Mr Jones.

“Our colleagues at the Watlington branch have been consulted about the change and will be given the opportunity to work at a nearby branch.”

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