Helen Goodman
Helen Goodman

TEESDALE MP Helen Goodman wants banks to share branches in a bid to bring more people to Barnard Castle’s high street.

The parliamentarian says footfall in the town has fallen since the closure of a NatWest branch in May.

HSBC shut its branch two years ago, leaving Barclays as the only bank left in the town.

Mrs Goodman said: “People are either going elsewhere, or staying at home.

“There are fewer people spending their time and money in Barnard Castle, causing suffering to businesses and retailers.”

She now wants government to do more to help businesses on the high street and to save town centres from dying.

She added “Barnard Castle retailers are also facing mounting competition from large online retailers like Amazon and Google, who are making incredible amounts of money.

“So why aren’t we subjecting them to a turnover tax and investing more into our town communities?

“I am proud of Barnard Castle, and there are many good things happening here. But the town will continue to fade away unless the government puts the public interest first.”

Businesspeople in Barney agree that banks bring more people into the town and believe that banks sharing a branch to cut costs might help. But they say they rarely use business accounts themselves because of the high service fees.

Businesses are charged when they deposit cash or make changes.

A scheme has been set up where some businesses rotate their change to avoid the charge.

Emma Rowell, who runs a coffee shop in the town, said: “The banks use businesses as a cash cow.”

Francesca Waring, of Star Flowers, also felt that online shopping and retail parks were taking people away from the high street. She said free parking at retail parks is a significant attraction for shoppers.

Adding to the pressure felt by businesses is a current review of business rates relief being carried out by Durham County Council, said Ms Rowell. She added: “Durham County Council is very generous with business rates relief. If that is reviewed and we have to pay full business rates, a lot of small shops would close. Being a micro-business is like being a subsistence farmer, it is from hand to mouth.”

The council’s head of finance and transactional services Paul Darby confirmed an annual review was being conducted to ensure reductions were being carried out correctly.

He said: “Only ratepayers whose circumstances have changed will be affected. Those whose circumstances have not changed will continue to be eligible for relief."

A spokesman for The Treasury said there are no rules preventing banks from sharing a branch if they choose to do so.

He said: “The decision to open or close a branch is a commercial decision taken by the management team of each bank. The government does not intervene in these decisions.

“However, we understand the impact that closures can have on communities. That’s why we support the banking industry’s agreement with the Post Office, which enables 99 per cent of personal customers and 95 per cent of small business customers can carry out their everyday banking at one of the Post Office’s 11,600 branches.”