December 10 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
While our wallets seem to be getting lighter because of rising living costs, it’s getting harder to spend a penny in some places - because of the closure of public toilets.
It’s a situation which has led to a union bemoaning the loss of the loos nationally, for making it tough for workers on the move when nature calls.
The Unison union said transport workers, postmen and women, police community support officers and refuse collectors are among those affected by the inconvenience of vanishing conveniences.
Heather Wakefield, Unison’s head of local government, said: “There are significant differences between the number of toilets in each local authority.
“Government cuts to council budgets have led to many closing facilities, leaving many areas without public toilets. For mobile workers, finding a toilet while on the move is a daily problem.
“The idea that you can just go into a shop or restaurant and ask to use the toilets is just not on.
“Some are helpful - particularly to those in uniform - but many times people are met with a sign saying ‘Customers only’. It is embarrassing.”
The British Toilet Association has estimated a 40pc drop in public toilets over the past decade, with cash-strapped councils closing them down.
Norfolk has, however, escaped relatively unscathed, compared to some parts of the country such as London and the northwest.
But among the Norfolk public toilets which have vanished in the past five years are two in Norwich. The ones in Tombland and the St Saviours Street were victims of the city council’s bid to balance its books.
At the time, Brenda Arthur, leader of Norwich City Council, said: “We don’t want to be doing this and the cuts are something which are not of our making.
“It’s the coalition government’s fault, but as a council we have a responsibility to make these tough choices.”
The council says it has saved £30,000 a year by shutting those public toilets.
Other former public toilets which are no more include ones at the bottom of Grapes Hill, which became notorious for activities other than the purpose the block was built for and ones outside St Andrew’s Hall.
But there remain 17 council-run public toilets in Norwich, including five across the city centre - at Norwich Market, two in Prince of Wales Road, at St Giles car park and at St Andrews car park.
There are another dozen in parks and open spaces, including at Chapelfield Gardens, Mousehold Heath, Waterloo Park, Wensum Park, Eaton Park and Earlham Park.
In North Norfolk, councillors recognised that maintaining the public toilets was important given tourist spending pounds also need to spend a penny.
North Norfolk District Council has 42 public toilets across the district, the same number as five years ago, although not all are in exactly the same place.
For example, one was sold off in Cromer, but replaced by the new toilets in the North Norfolk Information Centre.
Each costs about £10,000 a year to maintain and North Norfolk Council has, over the past five years, splashed out £473, 365 on refurbishing toilets.
Rhodri Oliver, North Norfolk District Council deputy leader and cabinet member for corporate assets, said: “Provision of public toilets is not cheap, but it’s what people rightly expect, and as a tourist area it’s very important that the council provides high quality facilities not only for everyone who lives in North Norfolk, but also for our many visitors.”
Last year North Norfolk District Council had two ‘gold award’ winning toilets in the national Loo of the Year Awards, at Sheringham and also at Happisburgh, where the new ‘eco’ toilets on the new car park replaced those in the old car park closed due to the dangers of cliff erosion.
One trend has seen councils transfer responsibility of toilets to others. Back in 2007 Breckland Council agreed to transfer its public toilets to town councils, along with a lump sum for them to use to operate them.
Five years ago, in West Norfolk 23 toilet blocks were operated by the council. That was increased to 24, but four are no longer operated by the authority.
However, the ones at Brancaster Beach and Denver are still up and running, although it is the National Trust and the Environment Agency which operate those.
Ones at Hilgay are now operated by the parish council, while the ones at Snettisham Beach have been replaced by the parish council elsewhere.
The number of public toilets in Broadland has remained at eight compared to five years ago, with the ones in Aylsham run by the town council. Over the same period there has been no change in the seven in South Norfolk. There are 32 across Waveney district.
In Great Yarmouth there are 24 public toilets across the district.
But one of the loos in Gorleston made the news for the wrong reasons earlier this month, with holidaymakers and the public complaining about a “stomach churning” smell from the South Pier block.
The council said the problem was outside of the toilet building itself and was not a cleaning issue.