Future vision for public toilets
There is a lot of nonsense being written and said regarding the strategic vision for toilets in Arun, which councillors had indicated they would support in the 2020 vision process where Arun should have fewer but better toilets.
Firstly, the criticism regarding the issue being badly handled: I knew that the issue was coming to the Environment & Leisure Working Party (E&LWP) to be discussed on June 23.
I also knew that the agenda for that meeting was being issued on the Arun website on June 13. I arranged for letters as a matter of courtesy to be sent to all parishes alerting them to the forthcoming discussion.
All these letters were issued on June 10 and were sent first class, so would have been there by the 13th.
I also arranged for letters to be sent to all affected ward councillors to be included in the weekly dispatch that went out on June 10. These would or should have been received the same day.
A press release was sent out on Tuesday, June 14, to the various newspapers and media outlets regarding the forthcoming meeting and the paper being brought to that meeting.
I absolutely refute that it was badly handled. It was planned and executed to ensure that the maximum number of affected people were informed of the forthcoming debate, and I say debate as nothing had been decided or agreed.
In that debate at the E&LWP, it was pointed out by officers that Arun only had a 32 per cent approval rating for its public conveniences and to bring all toilets up to a decent and acceptable standard would cost up to £1m in capital investment.
The council needed to save £4 million by 2020. So that option was unaffordable in capital terms as well as being unaffordable in running costs. A more affordable option was to invest £250k in the most used WCs and we listed 12 toilets for possible closure or delegation to parishes.
It was agreed at E&LWP that officers should make contact with parishes affected and have meaningful discussions to the future of those toilets.
Despite assertions that we have a duty of care to keep public toilets open, we do not have any mandatory obligation in law to do so.
Many districts and borough councils in the UK have closed all their public toilets. In contrast we at Arun as a matter of policy have chosen to maintain 29 public toilets, but it’s now clear that the current policy is unsustainable and unaffordable and this is evident with the 32 per cent approval rating.
That is why we decided to try and bring a strategic vision forward that is affordable and would provide decent public toilets with a high public approval that could be sustained.
For many years I have been pushing to convert toilets in to cafes and other commercial sites with a public convenience attached. Business owners would run and maintain the toilets in exchange for a low lease cost for the commercial side of the business.
This is in fact going to happen soon in Marine Park Gardens (Bognor Regis) at the old toilets that closed a few years ago. This would reduce substantially the cost of toilet provision and in fact could produce a small profit to the council.
In Ferring there are two toilets being discussed. At the recent heated public debate which I attended, the parish chairman said that if the parish were to take over responsibility for the toilets, it would have to increase the parish precept by £10 per household per annum (eg less than 20p per week).
I have always believed in localism and empowering local parishes to take more charge of local affairs.
Certain parishes like Rustington Parish Council have to be commended for making public toilets a parish priority and they effectively fund all their public WCs themselves apart for a £6,900 contribution that Arun makes.
Arun have suggested that Ferring Parish look to take over responsibility for running and maintenance of these toilets with a long lease and a peppercorn rent of £1 per annum.
I have also suggested that the Ferring Green toilet be converted in to a cafe or restaurant with outside seating and a couple of cubicle WCs for the public to use.
In the case of the Ferring Rife WC is it possible to have an annual public payment to the Bluebell Cafe to allow non customers to use their toilets.
I believe by doing this the parish council could make money out of the Ferring Green conversion and could use this to subsidise any Ferring Rife solution.
If the parish or the community believe toilets are important to them, then I urge all affected parishes to grasp the nettle and take responsibility as Rustington has shown.
This would provide a sustainable solution for public WCs and would empower the parishes by taking responsibility for community facilities within their areas and even could show a profit for the parish.
Surely a innovative approach is the best way to reform our public services.
Cllr Paul Dendle
Arundel & Walberton
Councillor and Cabinet
member for Leisure and
Amenities on Arun DC
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