THE Halifax Bank of Scotland today pledged to open 100 new sites over the next five years.
The plans, which will represent the biggest network expansion by the Halifax since the 1970s, were announced as the group reported a 17% rise in pre-tax profits to £4.81bn in 2005.
The new branches will be in the south of England and involve 50 towns where the Halifax has little or no presence, and another 50 where the company will move to bigger sites.
The bank expects to create about 1,500 jobs in the process.
Today's results were in line with market expectations after profits at an underlying level increased by 13% to £4.84bn.
As a result, the UK's largest base of small shareholders - estimated to be 2.5m private investors - will get a 10% increase in their annual dividend to 36.10p a share.
HBOS said profits from its high street operations rose by 8% to £2.28bn in the year, following a period when it adopted a "deliberate degree of caution".
The bank said its share of new mortgage lending fell to 21% against 23% in 2004 - striking the "right balance between growth and returns".
Bad debt levels rose by 28%.
The group said it planned to continue its cautious approach through "measured asset growth", but added that overall the economic background to trading in the UK remained encouraging.
With consumer spending and inflation pressures appearing subdued, HBOS said it expected the Bank of England to lower interest rates from the current 4.5%.
Chief executive James Crosby said: "Growth in the economy should quicken later in the year, ensuring that employment prospects will remain robust.
"We are confident that 2006 will be another strong year for value creation in HBOS."