Review could lead to closure of East Devon public toilets

Sidmouth's Triangle public toilets, which are safe from closure

Sidmouth's Triangle public toilets, which are safe from closure - Credit: Submitted

A major review of East Devon’s public toilets is set to be launched - and it could see the closure of some.
More than six years after a review of the toilets run by East Devon District Council was first mooted, councillors on the cabinet have 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 was 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 £3 million 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. In category A, toilets will be maintained and investment will be made to bring them up to standard. In category B, councillors will look to consider marketing a lease opportunity for a different offer such as a café, to include a publicly accessible toilet. And in category C, where there would be no commercial alternative, the toilets 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
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
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
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 and 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.

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