EXCLUSIVE

Bowra bcu branch closure

For over a month at least one security guard had been positioned out the front of the Bowraville bcu store, causing rumours to swell.

Then a fortnight ago bcu's Bowraville store suddenly closed.

A sign was posted on the glass doors stating the closure would be a temporary one. Nevertheless, the move has caused concern in the general community, with some speculating that this is the beginning of the end for the last bank branch in town.

When Guardian News asked bcu what reason they had for closing the store, General Manager Mike Ribbens stated that crime in the township was the motivating factor.

"The temporary closure has been made in response to concerns about the safety of our staff and members as a result of threats of criminal activity in the local community," he said.

We've made this decision reluctantly but we believe it is necessary to ensure the welfare of our staff and members.

"It is important to point out that it doesn't necessarily follow that the situation here relates specifically to our Bowraville store.

"As we understand it, this is really a community-wide issue and so we are working with community leaders and the police to try to assist in finding a sustainable long-term solution, as much as that is possible to do so."

We asked local police if crime in Bowraville was, in fact, increasing, and to respond to the concerns mentioned by bcu.

"Police are aware of a number of youth that have been causing issues within the township and have engaged with them in relation to anti-social behaviour, property theft, as well as malicious damage," Mid North Coast Police District Chief Inspector Guy Flaherty said.

"Some have been dealt with by way of the Young Offenders Act.

"Bowraville-based police along with other police from the Nambucca Valley are tasked to the township.

"It is important that where the public have information about crime they report it especially where they are a victim or a witness to a matter, or contact crimestoppers with information."

The sign on the Bowraville store

The sign on the Bowraville store

At the Police and Aboriginal Consultative Committee (PACC) meeting last Tuesday, crime statistics from the three major towns and their districts in the Nambucca Valley were discussed.

Since October there have been no reported incidents of 'steal from store' in Bowraville, and the town had a mere fifth of the number of 'steal from vehicle' offences when compared with Macksville.

The number of break and enters has increased in Bowra since October, but Insp Flaherty said a number of those incidents were 'opportunistic', occurring at fire-affected properties.

Likewise, the number of stolen vehicles had slightly increased in the district since October.

Inspector Flaherty said that a similar pattern - albeit much larger - had been occurring in Macksville for some time.

But many of those youths had since been dealt with and since December 1, Macksville police have only recorded one report of a break and enter.

In January seven kids from the Nambucca Valley were referred to the Youth On Track program.

"Eighty per cent of the kids who go through that program, we'll never see again," Insp Flaherty said.

Looking at the statistics, the volume of incidents in Macksville and Nambucca far outweighs those in Bowraville, and yet, the branches in those towns have remained open.

There are those in the community who have questioned whether bcu's rationale was really a smoke screen for closing down an unprofitable branch.

Given one of the core promises to members before the merger with P&N Bank took place last year was that no stores would be lost, we asked if bcu/P&N Bank still intended to uphold that guarantee.

"Absolutely, this is a temporary closure related to security issues, which is completely unrelated to the recent merger and the store will be reopened as soon as it is possible to do so. We have made this decision on a temporary basis subject to the specific local circumstances here," Mr Ribbens said.

We asked when the Bowra store might be reopened.

"At this stage we don't know - it will depend on how quickly the issues that have led to this situation are resolved," Mr Ribbens said.

"Our objective is to re-open as quickly as possible but, in the meantime, members in the local area requiring banking services can either visit our Macksville store OR call our member service line on 1300 228 228."

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