NATIONWIDE is to close four building society branches in Dorset.

It plans to shut in Boscombe, Canford Cliffs, Highcliffe and West Moors on January 31.

The mutual building society says it is investing £7million in improving other branches. It says the area will still have more branches for its population size than the rest of the country.

It is hoped that many of the affected staff will be re-deployed.

The closures could cause particular consternation in Canford Cliffs, which was left without a bank after the closures of Lloyds, Barclays and NatWest within months of each other.

Mandy Beech, member experience director, said: “This is a really difficult decision and not one we’ve taken lightly.”

There are 15 branches within a 10-mile radius of central Bournemouth and 11 will remain.

All the other local branches are undergoing refurbishments similar to those already carried out at sites including Poole, Bournemouth, Broadstone and Christchurch. The Winton branch is due to reopen after refurbishment on December 17.

Ms Beech said: “Whilst this is a really difficult decision for us to make, we want to make sure we’re investing in services we can provide in other locations.

“We’re trying to really open them up to make sure we can have great conversations side by side with members as opposed to traditional behind the glass conversations.”

She said customers were being contacted and there would be “individual conversations” with anyone who had concerns..

“We take comfort that a number of those members at those four branches are already enjoying the use of other branches,” she said.

In Highcliffe, 86 per cent of members were already using other nearby branches, while at Canford Cliffs the figure was 77 per cent, she added.

The number of transactions at the closed branches had fallen by 22 per cent in recent times.

Ms Beech said: “It’s not a decision we would take lightly but it’s making sure we can strike a balance between high network coverage in Bournemouth, being a real heartland for Nationwide, but also spending £7m in the local area.”

She added: “We’re really keen to make sure that the membership understands this is about investing in Bournemouth.”

Nationwide has a “branch promise” which says it will keep a high street presence until at least May 31 2021 in every town and city where it had a branch in March 2019.

But the text of its pledge adds: “As we look to create better branches for our members, it may make sense to close or merge some older branches in a few areas. These will make way for newer, more accessible branches.”

Ms Beech said: “We are constantly reviewing the branch network. That would be fair to say of any of our competitors at the same time as us.”