When are we going to start supporting newer banks?

Local council proves hostile to new outlets.

Almost 1,000 bank branches have been shuttered in the UK since the banking crisis in 2008. If you check back over the past decade, it gets worse: around 1 in 5 branches have closed – a net reduction of more than 2,000 bank and building society outlets.

So one might expect local authorities would help new kids on the banking block, such as Metro Bank, open new outlets. Not in Richmond they don’t. Metro Bank is keen to open a store on a prime site in Richmond but has now been refused permission for the second time by the local council. No matter that the new bank store would create around 25 to 30 jobs and be open for 80 hours a week, 362 days a year. The London Borough of Richmond upon Thames would prefer to see a new Metro Bank store hidden up a side street as opposed to the prime site, corner location identified by the bank. I know that banks’ reputations have taken a hit of late but this is really a tad ridiculous.

It all comes to change of use. Current planning rules mean that banks are at a disadvantage when it comes to securing prime high street locations – such premises tend to be classified as A1. Bank branches are classified as A2 retail uses. When I spoke with Metro Bank CEO Craig Donaldson the other day, he was a bit miffed – and understandably so. He tells me that he is six months behind target.

He had expected to open 25 new stores by now, instead of the 19 outlets currently open. It is taking Metro Bank an average of six to 12 months and between £75k and £100k per site whenever it begins the process of developing a new store. He estimates that the bank has wasted close on £1m to date, simply to secure the necessary planning consents for its stores already opened. If Donaldson was opening an undertaker or a hairdresser or a dry cleaning outlet – all currently classified as A1 uses – he could skip the time consuming and expensive charade of obtaining the requisite change of use. The regulations are so antiquated that included within the list of A1 retail uses are cats-meat shops and tripe shops.

There was a time when it made sense to treat bank branch planning applications as a separate retail use. Bank branches tended to open only from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and represent dead retail space at weekends. Such restricted retail hours tend not to apply to the new challenger banks. The number of empty shops on UK high streets remains at a record high and the stats are not helped by the continued lack of economic growth and the ongoing change in shopping habits.

To date, the government’s efforts to revitalise the high street have been lacklustre. It roped in retail guru Mary "Queen of Shops" Portas; she prepared a report and the PM set aside some precious time to fit in some photo opps with Ms Portas. Then he set up something called the High Street Innovation Fund and allocated around £1.2m to be shared among 12 towns. With a certain depressing predictability, 10 of the 12 towns chosen now report an increase in empty retail units.

Later this week, the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards will issue its long-awaited report. The remit of the study is to increase competition and strengthen governance across the banking sector. As part of its findings, the commission might care to suggest that antiquated high street planning regulations be brought into the 21st century. If such changes do not go down too well with planning lawyers coining it in from change of use appeals, then so be it.

Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.