Council review set to look at future of public toilets across East Devon

A review of public toilets provision across East Devon is set to be launched – and could potentially see some loos in Budleigh Salterton, Exmouth, Colyton, Seaton and Honiton close.

But the district council could also splash more than £3million to improve the area’s best-used conveniences.

Cabinet members unanimously backed the idea at their May meeting after being told the current level of service is not sustainable.

The project will seek to balance cutting costs with protecting a level of provision and enhancing and investing in loos which are retained.

Public toilets are not a statutory service East Devon District Council (EDDC) is required to provide.

Loos run by the authority have been provisionally split into three categories:

  • A – where provision will be maintained and investment made to bring toilets up to standard.
  •  B – where the council will look to consider marketing a lease opportunity for a different offer such as a café, to include a publicly-accessible toilet.
  • C – where there would be no commercial alternative and the loos would be offered to town and parish councils to run. If declined, the conveniences would be closed.

Councillor Geoff Jung, EDDC portfolio holder for 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 past 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

  • 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;
  • Queen’s 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 a report cabinet members  service lead for StreetScene Andrew Hancock 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 effected to be invited into the discussion to see if they can run loos more efficiently.

Cllr Hayward  said there would need to be some innovative thinking and that ‘some things won’t be palatable, but this needs to be done’.

Cabinet members agreed to the basis for the toilet review to ensure ‘we have the right toilet in the right place’.

The project will focus on the provision and support for Category A public conveniences at the key locations.

It will seek to provide opportunities for others to take on Category B sites, and offer Category C sites to town and parish councils if they feel continued provision is necessary.

The review will also determine whether to install contactless paid access on the retained toilets to enable a future income.

It will also look at whether in-house operation, as opposed private sector, is more cost-effective.

Stakeholders will also be consulted on the proposals.

A recommendation that £3.15 million rebuild or refurbishment of all Category A public toilets be included in the authority’s 2022/23 budget, subject to a consultation, was agreed.

Cabinet has also asked the council’s Overview Committee to review consultation responses and an equalities assessment before any final decisions are made.

EDDC leader Cllr Paul Arnott said this will be the time for concerns around the individual toilets mentioned in the review to be raised. 

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