THE upcoming closure of the Ulster Bank in Kircubbin will leave a large swathe of the Ards Peninsula without any banking facilities.
Residents in Portaferry and Kircubbin now face a 40 mile round trip to the nearest bank in Newtownards.
The Kircubbin closure is one of nine planned by Ulster Bank throughout Northern Ireland from October. The bank said it has made the decision because more of its customers are using digital banking.
Back in 2014 the Danske Bank in Kircubbin closed and in 2008 the Northern Bank pulled out of Portaferry.
Portaferry councillor Joe Boyle said the latest news was a “devastating blow” to small businesses and many residents.
“It is yet another set back concerning the availability of facilities on offer in the Ards Peninsula,” he said.
“I have been working extremely hard for a number of years, throughout all towns and villages in the the Ards Peninsula, marketing the area as a must visit location, furthermore, an area for everyone to live and to do business. Sometimes, however, it feels as if we move one step forward and two back.
“In some ways the Portaferry Credit Union, having invested £0.5m in their current excellent premises in the town and further having purchased and invested significantly within the former Danske Bank premises in Kircubbin, have been extremely pro-active, offering an important lifeline to the residents throughout the Ards Peninsula.”
Councillor Boyle said the Post Office was also now offering a greater service top the community in Portaferry.
“Unfortunately to lose the only remaining bank in the Ards Peninsula sited in Kircubbin currently without a Post Office facility is very worrying,” he added.
“I have been liaising with Ulster Bank officials with the view to organising a public meeting so that their customer base, which includes customers from across the Ards Peninsula, can be informed of how the Ulster Bank proposes to continue to service the needs of those with personal and business banking needs.”
The Consumer Council said it was also concerned about the Ulster Bank branch closures, which follow on from a decision by First Trust last month to close 15 of their branches, including one in Downpatrick.
John French, chief Executive of the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, said: “The bank branch network in Northern Ireland has undergone significant change. By the end of this year around 38% of bank branches will have closed since 2010. “We would encourage affected consumers to speak directly with Ulster Bank to ensure the revised arrangements will continue to meet their needs.
“We always recommend consumers review their bank account and check it provides the best overall deal and service.
“Switching is quick and hassle-free. Consumers can get a copy of our guide to switching their bank account at www.consumercouncil.org.uk, by contacting us on 0800 121 6022 or via Facebook and Twitter.”
The Consumer Council also has a ‘Bank Branch Closure’ fact sheet which is available to download at www.consumercouncil.org.uk or by calling 0800 121 6022.
Sean Murphy, Managing Director of Personal Banking at Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, said: “Banking has changed radically in recent years. More and more of our customers are using digital technology and fewer are using our branch network.
“Closing a branch is never an easy decision and one we do not take lightly.
“Recognising that customers expect different services from their bank, we continue to invest in a range of channels to improve access in a sustainable way, such as our Bank on Wheels, 24/7 telephone banking and our services available through the Post Office.
“Ulster Bank still retains Northern Ireland’s largest bank branch network and its only Bank on Wheels service, as well providing ongoing education for customers in how to make best use of these services.
“We will also be introducing additional digital and community support roles to assist with this transition.
“In line with the industry-agreed UK protocol on branch closures, we are writing to customers of these branches to inform them of alternative branch locations in their area and the range of banking services available on their mobiles, online, telephone and in post offices.