Council to help Westpac branch stay open

The Clutha District Council will offer assistance to Westpac to keep its Milton branch open.

The bank told council chief executive Steve Hill on Tuesday it might close its Milton branch - one of only two banks in town - before Christmas.

He said he understood a decision was not far away, but the bank refused to be specific when approached by the Otago Daily Times.

Westpac spokeswoman Haley Ritchie said the proposal affected only the Milton branch.

She wrote in an email: ''This is a proposal only and we are consulting with our employees. Due to the number of people now using online and mobile banking, there has been a steady decline in the number of customers using the branch and we are assessing our options as a result.

''Should the proposal go ahead, we are planning on leaving an ATM in the area and investing significantly in the Balclutha area, including a Smart ATM so customers can bank when they want to.''

She declined to answer questions about the time frame of the decision or to elaborate on her statement.

Mr Hill met Westpac managers, Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan and ward councillors Gaynor Finch, Bruce Vollweiler, and Selwyn Wilkinson.

He said the council would make a submission to the bank today offering possible solutions.

He said a smaller facility with limited hours could help preserve a physical presence on Union St for the bank.

''We're absolutely committed to offering solutions ... we're asking them to consider that when they're looking at their decisions, not just the black and white: `Is it enough to keep a branch going?' or `all things equal the economic analysis says it's not enough to keep the branch going'.''

Cr Finch said she was ''fizzing and fuming'' after Tuesday's meeting.

She was ''distraught for the town's elderly'', some of whom did not use eftpos cards, operating on cash alone.

Milton Pharmacy owner Chris London captured the feeling on the main street when he said the news came with very little warning.

His Westpac business manager phoned him ''the week before last''.

''He implied that it wasn't a foregone conclusion at the time, though it seems that it probably is, unless enough people make a fuss about it,'' he said.

When approached yesterday, several main street businesspeople said they were not told about the proposal.

Milton Hammer Hardware owner Robyn Calder said Milton customers should have had an opportunity to respond to the proposal.

Mr London said the bank drew people to town, and if it were to go, many businesses in Milton could suffer.

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