Concern for public toilets across East Devon

Fears have been voiced for Sidmouth’s free public toilets as district bosses review their £800,000 cost in a bid to balance the books.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) is taking stock of its conveniences and is looking into paid access at some ‘key’ sites, leasing some to businesses and ‘innovative’ ways of reducing the cost of providing its StreetScene service.

Also on the cards is ‘rationalising’ its provision, but the authority insists that no decision has yet been made and residents will be consulted. Any changes are at least two years away, says the council.

Councillor Cathy Gardner, ward member for Sidmouth Town, said the result will be taxpayers paying more for less – and warned the authority will soon run out of ways to cut costs.

“A town like Sidmouth needs free public toilets,” she said. “An elderly population and lots of visitors with children need them, otherwise we have an increase in urination in public places.

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“As well as cutting services that we’ve had as a mark of civilisation since the Victorian era, we will be paying more in council tax and getting less.

“This is what austerity means at a local level. It really does affect everyone and I doubt whether things will ever be put back.

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“Once an asset is sold, it’s gone - never to be returned – and how do you balance the books next time?”

An EDDC spokeswoman said: “The council recognises that public toilet provision is a very important service for our residents and visitors – however, it is not a statutory service and we provide it because we know how much it is valued.

“As part of the council plan, we need to look at ways of operating services differently in order to help meet our budget deficit of £2.6million.

“We spend around £800,000 per annum on our toilets, so we need to assess them responsibly for quality, level of provision in any given area and possible options for different ways of operating.

“However, we would like to stress that no decisions have yet been made – it is far too early and is still a work in progress.”

The spokeswoman said the provision is being reviewed and the options will be discussed by EDDC’s asset management forum and cabinet. She added: “As and when proposals come forward, there will be full engagement, including consultation, with all interested parties.

“We anticipate that any changes would not come into place for at least two years.”

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