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Public toilets across Argyll and Bute are set to be closed as a cost-saving measure – despite reports of human waste being left outside some facilities, write Local Democracy Reporter Andrew Galloway.
The council’s business continuity committee has agreed to an officer’s recommendation to keep 35 public conveniences open until the end of October. But then between 10 and 15 would have to close and only a ‘core set’ would remain open.
However, the council has given no indication – either in the report to Thursday’s meeting or during the meeting itself – of which toilets might remain.
The council has been asked to identify which toilets are proposed to go or be retained. Council officials face a budget deficit because of the coronavirus and strict new guidelines demand more extensive cleaning of public toilets which would drive up costs.
Senior officials have said the pandemic had presented difficulties in reverting to the public toilet services it offered previously.
However, the decision comes amid rising community concerns – particularly in remote rural areas – about visitors fouling the area due to a lack of open facilities.
A meeting of the committee heard widespread discussion on what should be done going forward – including engaging with communities and reopening all facilities.
Councillor Douglas Philand asked: ‘Is there any scope for increasing the opening of other public toilets?
‘On the green at Kilmartin, they have found human excrement – they know it is human because there was toilet paper beside it.
‘This is actually happening there – is it possible, based on that, to look at opening other facilities?”
Kirsty Flanagan, the council’s head of strategic finance, responded: ‘There is an option to open more toilets, but it will come at a cost.
‘The proposal is to minimise the cost, and we also have the paper on Covid-19 costs, which we are trying to minimise.
‘We have public toilets open across all areas. I appreciate they are not all open but there are some within a commutable distance.’
Councillor Rory Colville then asked: ‘Have we any way of engaging with communities, especially those with toilets closed and with no plans to reopen?
‘We need to engage with them and offer them the most support we can, should they be willing to consider taking them on.’
Ms Flanagan responded: ‘Services are engaging where they are getting contact, but are not proactively going out to those groups as there is limited capacity to do so.
‘Prior to the pandemic they had tried to do that and had limited take-up from communities. If groups come forward I am sure they will engage.’
Councillor Robin Currie said: ‘This is now getting to be a health issue. I know it sounds funny, but it is a serious issue.
‘Highland Council are going to supply trowels in most of the lay-bys in their area so that people can do the toilet in a lay-by and bury it. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
‘Once it gets to that stage, it’s serious, and it is happening all over. Between that and litter, it is getting out of hand.
‘People more educated than me are asking where the requirement is, because there has been nothing from the Scottish Government that requires us to do this, that or the other thing.
‘So could we not open toilets and just clean them the way we used to, with extra cleaning in place?
‘We could also be making money from people going into toilets, but we still haven’t installed meters to charge for their use.
‘If we did that it would not increase the cost of additional cleaning. The answer I got was that we can’t do that because we don’t know what the Covid-19 rules will be in a few months’ time.
‘But surely to goodness it doesn’t really matter what the rules will be? The fact there is a meter outside the door will not change a lot.’
Ms Flanagan said: ‘The staff in services are progressing the charging issues. In terms of cleaning, it is clear there is enhanced guidance.
‘If we weren’t adhering to public health guidance there would be a bit of difficulty, but because of Covid there is much more cleaning required.
‘We would now have great difficulty in going back to what it was before.’
Councillor Currie, who lives on Islay, then remarked: ‘Kirsty and others have had long discussions about this, but just to give an example, I left the island for two or three days recently.
‘Being on the ferry, with hundreds of people, there was absolutely no cleaning of toilets to be seen when I was on board on Friday or Monday. We seem to be a bit risk averse.’
But Councillor Aileen Morton responded: ‘It is incumbent on us to do it, but we are also leaders in the community and setting the example of ignoring the guidance is not a good idea.
‘I wouldn’t support the idea that we no longer take forward the advice we are given. There are other services impacted as a result of guidance.’
Among the council’s public toilets are those at Oban North Pier and Ganavan. There are also public facilities at Bowmore, Islay; Port Askaig, Islay; Craignure, Mull; Port Ellen, Islay Feolin, Islay; Craighouse, Jura; Ellenabeich and, Port Appin, Lorn.