Strong response to bank closure at public meeting

Columns
Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean says the proposed closure of the Westpac branch in Fairlie would have a wide-ranging impact on the area.

More than 30 people attended a public meeting, hosted by Mrs Dean, at the Fairlie Heartlands Centre on Monday (22 August). 

She says it's a serious issue for a small but strong community. 

"Business owners are understandably worried that if people are forced to travel to larger centres to do their banking, they will do other shopping while they're there - and Fairlie will miss out on that much needed trade. 

"There are businesses in Fairlie and nearby Lake Tekapo who currently do a strong cash trade and the security concerns of that money remaining on-site is apparent."

Mrs Dean says elderly residents who attended the meeting were upset by the prospect of not being able to do their weekly banking at the branch.

"Using modern technology is not an option for some and handing over signing authority to a relative or caregiver has a real impact on their independence.

"Older people may be able to travel via community transport to a larger centre, but the reality is that for many, a $50 return fare to Timaru is prohibitive."

Mrs Dean says Fairlie is a town that services a wide area and its position in the Mackenzie District means the closure would have a direct effect on tourism.   

"The branch is currently the only way in which tourists visiting the area can withdraw cash from their overseas cards and that cash is vital to the local economy.

"Tourism operators also rely on overseas workers at peak times and to work here they must have a New Zealand bank account. If they can't set that up locally it may deter them from seeking employment in the area. 

"I have already contacted Westpac senior officials and will meet with management this week to relay the the concerns of local residents and businesses, to ensure they are fully aware of the implications of this closure - before it's too late."