Councillors caught short over toilet budget

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

The future of the public toilets in West Devon is still unknown, following a meeting of a borough council committee to discuss ways to make a £50,000 saving from the public conveniences budget.

An original recommendation to West Devon Borough Council’s hub committee was to consider four options – closing or devolving six facilities in rural locations to town or parish councils (Brentor, Bedford Bridge in Horrabridge, Chagford, Hatherleigh, Lydford and Yelverton), closing facilities in Tavistock and Okehampton where other options are available in the towns, the closure of low footfall facilities in rural locations coupled with pay on entry in high footfall areas or the closure of all public toilets.

The council currently spends £181,000 on maintaining 12 public toilets this does not include salaries. A mid-term report has said that if there is no change there could be a shortfall of £3.7 million by 2023/24. The report to the West Devon Hub committee says is forecasting a 0.7% budget gap in 2019/20.

However, at the meeting, a revised recommendation was put forward to approve and deliver savings of £50,000 or more in the next financial year (2019/20) by considering a combination of the provision of pay on entry systems, closure of toilet facilities where adequate provision may be found within reasonable proximity or where footfall is not such to justify continued provision and the transfer of toilet facilities to parishes or other partners where agreement can be reached to maintain service continuity.

This would be subject to seeking the authority of the council for any closures to be considered.

Councillor Robert Sampson, who made the revised recommendation, pointed out that contrary to the impression that may have been gained among the public, closure decisions were not being decided at the meeting but they were committing to saving from the budget and giving officers a ‘recommendation on how to achieve that saving’.

Concern was raised among officers about the health and well-being responsibility of the council to provide public conveniences.

Officers discussed the possibility of devolving ownership of the toilets to town and parish councils with the possibility of contributing to running costs or the possibility of shared ownership/responsibility so as not to put too much of a financial burden on already struggling town and parish council budgets. It was felt that consultation with town and parish councils should be undertaken to gain their views.

West Devon Borough Cllr Robert Sampson said: “ Over the next few weeks we shall be talking to various town and parish councils concerned about the various options.” Talking about Chagford where Mr Sampson is also a parish councillor, went on: “The parish council might increase its contribution to running them, or a pay on entry could be introduced, as at Princetown. Closure is not, for Chagford, a realistic option. It was agreed last week that no closure would take place without the consent of the full council.”

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