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Friday, March 15, 2024

Llangollen councillor brands toilets cuts plan 'act of self-harm'

* Llangollen's public toilets in Market Street.

Denbighshire councillors have agreed to look again at a plan to dispose of all its public toilets in a bid to save around £200,000 a year in running costs. 

But at the council’s community scrutiny committee yesterday (Thursday) a package of measures aimed at examining the proposal in more depth put forward by Llangollen councillor Karen Edwards was rejected.  

Officers’ say the council needs to make savings as it faces an “unprecedented” financial challenge and the closure proposal is part of a corporate process to pinpoint cuts in the 2024/25 budget.

The provision of public conveniences (PCs) is a non-statutory duty. Many local authorities ceased providing this service many years ago.

Denbighshire currently has 20 toilet sites across the county, including Llangollen, none of which break even financially. 

The council aims to transfer as many of them as possible to other groups or organisations, such as city, town and community councils, so that they continue to operate but at no cost to DCC. 

At yesterday’s scrutiny committee Cllr Edwards made an impassioned plea for a closer examination of the proposal before it is allowed to go ahead.

She said: “We are all aware of the financial challenges facing this council and the tough decisions now being taken by the cabinet in its drive to balance the books in an era of diminishing financial settlements, increasing demand on services and inflation.

“In our previous meeting we made recommendations regarding mitigating the cuts to our library services. Our recommendations were not accepted by cabinet  but further work would be undertaken to identify alternative sources of funding.

“Perhaps the most important issue before us today is the proposal to close our public toilets or transfer responsibility for their operation to third parties. 

“This particular proposal has to be considered in the context of the council’s core policy objectives, one of which is the promotion of tourism to grow the regional economy. As we all know, tourism plays a vital part in Denbighshire’s economy with 6.03 million visitors in 2022. 

“In the case of the Llangollen ward that I represent along with Councillor Keddie, our town centre car park has a public convenience which is used in part by coach parties. Without this facility Llangollen will no longer be able to offer a convenient ‘relief stop ‘ for coaches and they may well cease to stop there. 

“Businesses in the town will suffer and the closure would therefore be an illogical act of self-harm. The car park in Market Street generated an income of £171,396.61 in 2022/23, this equates to 43% of DCC’s total income from car parks with public conveniences.   

“It is my understanding having spoken with the Llangollen Town Council clerk that it would be impossible for them to agree to take over the unsolicited financial liability of this property asset as  they have yet to be officially consulted and their precept for this forthcoming year was submitted to DCC last January. If the public conveniences were to close, there are no suitable alternatives.”  

She added: “There is mention within the report of the Community Toilet Scheme [by which businesses are paid a grant to allow the public to use their toilets] which has apparently been in existence for a number of years with very limited uptake - one I believe. You may argue the point that it hasn’t been widely publicised, but realistically unless this is proven to be an absolutely viable alternative, your sanguine approach is at best premature. 

“We have a tourism economy which is growing year on year, and the car parks of Llangollen are frequently filled to capacity by visitors during the whole year, not just the summer months. The toilets are an essential part of our public infrastructure to accommodate the needs of visitors to the town. 

“From a policy viewpoint there is no logic in closing such vital facilities if we continue to spend money marketing Denbighshire, as a means of generating more visitors - approximately £718,000. We should consider achieving savings by reducing marketing budgets as opposed to closing facilities. Public conveniences may well be a non-statutory obligation but neither is the marketing of this authority to promote tourism. 

“It is therefore unrealistic to propose the removal of the budget for public conveniences  in total as there will be on-going costs associated with de-commissioning these facilities, updating others, and retaining those considered to be essential in tourist hot spots. 

Cllr Edwards proposed the committee make a recommendation for further consideration by the officers responsible for the proposal and that a further report be produced recognising that the budget for public conveniences  cannot be removed in its entirety and will identify: 

* The take-up of third-party management of toilets. 

All costs of accommodation work prior to transfer, or decommissioning, and redundancies, if any 

* The on-going budget required to operate those toilets to be retained as essential tourist infrastructure.

Revenue costs for retained toilets to be supported by savings made in the tourism marketing budget and a review of the charges made for the use of public conveniences.

Even though the decision to bring the plan back to the scrutiny committee was supported her proposal was rejected.

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