East Devon could close public loos in major shake-up

A major review of East Devon’s public toilets is set to be launched.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

More than six years after a review of the toilets run by East Devon District Council was first mooted, councillors on the cabinet last Wednesday unanimously agreed to launch the consultation over the public toilet service in the district.

Councillors were told that the continued provision at the current level is no longer sustainable, with the review seeking to balance the savings requirement with protecting a level of toilet provision, enhancing and investing in retained stock.

And while public toilets matter to everyone, as the provision is not a statutory service the council is required to provide, and with them facing a £3m budget gap, the review aims to reduce the costs of providing the service, review the ways in which it is provided, the number of overall toilets they provide, particularly in locations where demand is less or alternative facilities exist.

All of the council run toilets have been provisionally split into three categories. Category A, where provision will be maintained and investment made to bring them up to standard. Category B, where they will look to consider marketing a lease opportunity for a different offer such as a café, to include a publicly accessible toilet. And Category C, where there would be no commercial alternative and would be offered to town and parish councils to run, but if they turned down the chance, they would be closed.

Cllr Geoff Jung, portfolio holder for the environment, said: “Most of our public conveniences were built in the 1950s and the plumbing and structures are not as they were. Some of the toilets closed for over a year there has not been much call for. Let’s face it, the loos are passed their sell by date and some will soon need to be shut as they will fail environmental standards. The world has moved on but our loos are a flashback to the mods and rockers.”

The proposed categorisation of the toilets run by East Devon

CATEGORY A

Promoted Stories

  • West Street Car Park, Axminster
  • Cliff Path, Budleigh Salterton
  • East End, Budleigh Salterton
  • Jubilee Gardens, Beer
  • Foxholes Car Park, Exmouth
  • Magnolia Centre, Exmouth
  • Manor Gardens, Exmouth
  • Phear Park, Exmouth
  • Queens Drive, Exmouth
  • Lace Walk, Honiton
  • West Walk, Seaton
  • Connaught Gardens, Sidmouth
  • Triangle, Sidmouth
  • Market Place or Port Royal, Sidmouth

CATEGORY B

  • Station Road, Budleigh Salterton
  • Imperial Recreation Ground, Exmouth
  • Orcombe Point, Exmouth
  • The Maer, Exmouth
  • Harbour Road, Seaton
  • Seaton Hole, Seaton
  • Market Place or Port Royal, Sidmouth

CATEGORY C

  • Brook Road, Budleigh Salterton
  • Dolphin Street, Colyton
  • Exmouth Bus Station, Exmouth
  • Jarvis Close, Exmouth
  • King Street Car Park, Honiton
  • Marsh Road, Seaton

In his report to the cabinet, Andrew Hancock, service lead for StreetScene, said: “The review proposes to invest in toilets that are retained to ensure the right toilet in the right place, this is important since no capital investment has been made for a number of years. Many of the sites need updating to meet modern standards and expectations as well as incorporating Covid secure/improved hygiene design features.

“While there have been a handful of local complaints about the inconvenience of some of our public toilets being closed during the pandemic, on the whole the open blocks have coped with the community need and we’ve had less complaints about the facilities as they are maintained to a higher standard.

“Even in the height of summer 2020 when we saw record levels of use at our parks and beaches, the toilets we had open were sufficient for most, so one has to ask if we know we need to invest significantly in re-building or refurbishing our outdated toilets for modern requirements, and we know we have a high number of toilet blocks compared to neighbouring areas.

“Moving forward, it would seem sensible to provide a smaller number of better provisioned and better maintained toilets, with other sites re-purposed, for example, the Seaton Chine Hideaway café, and still providing some form of toilet access, particularly as the positioning or use of some public toilets are questionable.

“It is very important that we continue to provide high quality public toilets for our residents and that we recognise they have an important role to play in our visitor economy; but that future provision is financially sustainable and that we are making the best uses of our sites. Continued provision at our current level is no longer sustainable. This review seeks to balance the savings requirement with protecting a level of toilet provision, enhancing and investing in retained stock.”

He added: “The overall objective of the council should be to provide high quality, modern facilities that are mainly located in town centres, tourist areas and parks which help support these areas. The council should look at other means of operating toilets and be concerned with overall levels of provision, but not necessarily direct provision in all cases.

“We recognise that public toilet provision is an emotive subject and an important service. It is however non-statutory and costs almost £900,000 per year including recharges. With budget pressure from reducing government grants we must look at transforming how we operate services, and our medium term financial plan sets out targets for savings from different ways of operating.

“This review is looking to ensure East Devon continues to provide high quality public toilets in a sustainable way, but also recognising in some situations other methods of provision might be appropriate, indeed beneficial to the public, particularly where there are multiple toilet blocks or toilets are less well used and some sites could add a café, bar or other commercial offer.”

Cllr Paul Hayward, portfolio holder for economy and assets, added that change was necessary and the council had to think about what was considered necessary going forward.

He called for all the towns and parishes affected to be invited into the discussion to see if they can run them more efficiently, and said there would need to be some innovative thinking, and that ‘some things won’t be palatable, but this needs to be done’.

Cllr Cathy Gardner said that she was concerned about any charging for toilets as it would be a retrograde step for public health and as charging reduces the use of toilets, the council should do all they can to avoid it.

Cllr Paul Millar added that there should be one free of charge toilet in each town where there are areas of deprivation whatever the outcome of the review was, while Cllr Steve Gazzard said that they had to take the public with them on the review, and Cllr Marcus Hartnell said lessons needed to be learnt from the Seaton café example to ensure a minimum level of provision was still provided.

The cabinet agreed to the basis for the toilet review to ensure ‘we have the right toilet in the right place’, which will focus on the provision and support for Category A public conveniences at the key locations, seeks to provide opportunities for others to take on Category B sites, and offers Category C sites to Town & Parish councils if they feel continued provision here is necessary.

The review will also determine whether to install contactless paid access on the retained toilets to enable a future income to help meet deficits and improve toilet standards and whether in-house operation, which is more cost effective than private sector operators, and whether they resolve to continue operation on this basis.

It will also see them agree to consult with all stakeholders to obtain their views of these proposals in order to gain understanding/agreement that public toilets need investment to modernise them, whether to investigate charging for their use to protect future provision, and to provide a concessionary card for those with medical needs.

A recommendation that a capital budget of £3.15 million be set as part of the 2022/23 budget for the rebuild or refurbishment of all Category A public toilets, subject to the results of the consultation, was also made to full council.

Prior to any decision being made, the cabinet also asked the Overview Committee to review the consultation responses and equalities assessment and provide its views, with Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the council, saying that this was the time for concerns around the individual toilets mentioned in the review to be raised, rather than at last week’s meeting.

4 thoughts on “East Devon could close public loos in major shake-up

  1. To put this debate in perspective Budleigh Salterton has FOUR sets of public conveniences in the town. (Albeit one at the Public Hall subsidised by the Town Council)
    This is more than the county of Wiltshire put together, who also have an interesting take on “delegation”!

    “Wiltshire Council manages public conveniences at Castle Coombe.
    All other public convenience services have been delegated to local town and parish councils.”

    https://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/article/1020/Public-toilets

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    • Are Budleigh’s four more than the county of Wiltshire- or just the one the county manages?

      They link doesn’t identify the number in the county, just makes the point that with one exception they are managed by another level of council- with grants I imagine. I don’t care who provides them so long as someone does.

      (Wilts ought to be able to afford them out of speeding fines as they are known to be very heavily into focusing on speeders, far more than adjacent forces. No, they haven’t caught me – though I did get a threatening letter from a community speed watch exercise claiming I was speeding- on a day I wasn’t out of Devon)

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  2. Agree with previous post. Providing adequate toilet facilities is all part of a civilised and decent society, for a basic human need. It is a matter of public health, what happens on many occasions whether is no provision at all,? do you remember when the height of lockdown when loos were completely closed down? many tourist areas were troubled by some people using anywhere – even in people’s gardens, this is a serious public health issue. If we want tourists or people to come into town for shopping, spend time on beaches etc. Then we must have public loos readily available. The more the better!

    Without these facilities people who have conditions making them need a loo urgently will no longer go out, which is detrimental to their health. People who have prostate problems; sufferers of conditions like Chrohns disease; pregnant women; the elderly who cannot walk long distances; little children who want to ‘go NOW’ . Having no loos makes life miserable and causes anxiety for those people. There are many conditions where a loo and hand washing facilities are necessary.

    We should take a lead here in East Devon- to be respectful of people’s needs and act in a civilised manner.

    Prefer that we keep the single sex loos; would rather pay than have nothing available at all; but it could be
    Perhaps a very small amount added on to car parking charges.? But as above said stop putting pretty logos on vans etc. and try similar tweaks to other budgets.

    Also if Sidmouth plans to have its Festival this year perhaps they should please think about repairing the ladies loos where 50% have been deemed ‘out of order’ for a long time.

    So EDDC take a lead, set an example please. I know it is a great cost but a way should be found to keep our very convenient public conveniences!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These proposals are a matter of real concern.

    I do understand that every council that takes on a responsibility for public loos likely finds the costs a considerable burden. The reported article makes reference to there being no statutory duty to provide loos, I don’t know if this is a comment from the reporter, or from a member of EDDC staff or elected member. I hope the former for it is the excuse that the old administration used to rely on all too frequently.

    There is an argument presented for closure f some, and reduction in status, but little on the opposite side for the need for public loos. Let’s look at some of the reasons: public health, public convenience, public expectation in a tourist area. The need for public loos is greater for an older population and East Devon has a high number of elderly residents, many of the sick and disabled have greater needs of public loos too. Being able to access a loo is essential for many – and can considerably affect quality of life. Depriving the latter groups of ready access has the inevitable consequence of restricting them to their homes to a greater extent, itself an unhealthy matter. There is also the cost of cleaning up the inevitable consequences both in health terms and financial. I would also like to see what some in the NHS might have to say, both from the geriatric and the bowel and bladder clinic staff. There is no doubt in my mind that they will see it as undesirable and unhealthy.

    In today’s i there is a piece about government addressing the arguments over shared and single sex cubicle issue. Why are we arguing about that rather than the need to make public loos a statutory requirement? Apparently the nation has seem over 900 close of late. Soon it will be a requirement to include single sex loos in every public building- great during the week but no good at weekends or many tourist locations, and an age to come in and have a bearing on the problem. One wonders why the planners are not doing more now- the new dining setup in Exmouth, sorry international water-sports facility, should have used the opportunity to make further the provision of public loos in that area.

    The article above mentions that there were few complaints about closed loos suggesting they are not as needed as we might think. Well could it be that people might have been a) complying with Covid Regs and staying at home or b) if they managed to get out and saw loos were largely closed, thought it pointless complaining. There is a simple test. Close every loo in the new EDDC HQ for a week and see how people like it; see how many stay at home too!

    I really do appreciate that this is a tremendous headache for councils but why oh why do they always give in and keep closing more down. Fight it nationwide, get our MPs working on it, look for budgets that could be better used to support public loos . Does planning legislation prohibit developer costs, the old 103 money (?) from being used for loo projects? If so, its time to argue for a change perhaps rather than look for anyone who can justify a claim on a great pot of money. Sort the ‘needed’ before the ‘nice to do’ For example, what is the additional cost of ‘branding’ all the EDDC vehicles with all those pretty but unnecessary logos – a simple EDDC should suffice. There must be other ‘nice to do’ budgets that the public would prefer to see spent on public loos. I’d also hope there are no more gagging contacts and accompanying payments being made to keep ex-staff quiet as was the case with the previous administration.

    I should so like to see the EDDC Independent’s Alliance lead the country on resolving this one , not just because it is a vote winner, it is the right thing to do, time to think outside of the bog- sorry, box!

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