More public toilets to open but Axminster councillor says it's not enough

  Posted: 20.06.20 at 10:12 by Francesca Evans

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East Devon District Council's Cabinet has decided to re-open more toilets across the district for public health and to support economic recovery.

Four more public toilets are to re-open in East Devon from Monday, June 29, adding to the ten facilities across the district that opened up a month ago to give better access for the public.

Opening hours for all 14 toilets will be extended from 8am to 8pm during the summer at a cost of almost £77,000 to ensure they are cleaned to stringent COVID-19 standards. The toilets will be cleaned four times a day in the summer with viracidal cleaning products and three times a day in the winter. Every week the toilets will have a full site disinfected deep clean.

The council’s street cleaning summer budget of £62,000 has also restored to help deal with the expected influx of visitors in the coming weeks.

The council will also lobby its three district MPs for more funding to help East Devon through the pandemic.

The decisions were made by East Devon District Council’s Cabinet this week following a comprehensive review of toilet opening options including specific COVID-19 risk assessments, implementing the government’s additional requirements and the financial implications of doing so.

In a report considered by councillors, Andrew Hancock, service lead of StreetScene, the agency which provides cleaning services for the council, encouraged members to reopen more toilets and reinstate the summer cleaning budget or face a public health risk.

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the council, told the meeting: “South West leaders wrote to the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick nearly a month ago appealing for him to honour the Chancellor’s pledge to do ‘whatever it takes’. Our councils have received no reply as yet.

“But despite this, this council believes it must respond to the change in circumstances. Our coastal towns and major shopping areas must have safe COVID-19 compliant lavatories restored as a matter of extreme urgency. The problem is that this will cost somewhere between a lot of money and a hell of a lot of money.”

He said that the re-opening of further toilets would be kept continually under review as COVID-19 restrictions are further relaxed.

Axminster district councillor Ian Hall has expressed his disappointment that the Cabinet did not agree to reopen all of its 27 public toilets, which he said was a "no brainer decision to help kick start our local economy". He has also criticised the Cabinet's decision not to reopen skateparks.

Councillor Hall's comments have sparked a public spat amongst some East Devon District Council members on social media.

On Facebook, leader Paul Arnott argued that opening all 27 toilets safely would cost more than £200,000. He suggested Conservative Councillor Hall should chat with his "MP chums" and ask the government to deliver on their financial promises to the council.

On Twitter, Exmouth councillor Joe Whibley also questioned how Councillor Hall would have paid for all 27 toilets to be opened, to which Councillor Hall replied: "Sorry, I did not hear you speak at Cabinet - not interested in listening to you now. Two decisions so far - both awful and you instantly want a meeting with the MPs. Take some responsibility and grow a backbone for the people of East Devon."

Yarty councillor Paul Hayward suggested that Councillor Hall should delete the "deeply offensive, disrespectful and unprofessional" comment.

The toilets that will re-open from Monday, June 29 with opening hours from 8am to 8pm in the summer months are: Cliff Path (West End, Steamer Steps) in Budleigh Salterton; Magnolia Centre, Exmouth; Phear Park, Exmouth; and Market Place, Sidmouth.

Toilets that re-opened from May and will have opening times extended from 8am to 8pm during the summer months from Monday, June 29 are: West Street Car Park, Axminster; East End (Lime Kiln), Budleigh Salterton; Jubilee Gardens, Beer; Foxholes Car Park, Exmouth; Manor Gardens, Exmouth; Queens Drive/Old Lifeboat, Exmouth; King Street, Honiton; West Walk, Seaton; Connaught Gardens, Sidmouth; Triangle, Sidmouth.

As it made its decisions, the Cabinet took into account a number of factors that are impacting on the district following the government’s gradual relaxing of lockdown restrictions where people are able to spend more time outdoors.

These include:

- The difficulty of those who need access to a toilet more often and the health hazard of people relieving themselves on the streets.

- The re-opening of high streets and the need for public toilet facilities as cafes and restaurants who may normally provide them remain closed.

- An exceptional increase in the number of visitors during April and May during the fine weather where the council had to clear more litter than in the busiest summer periods.

- An expected increase in day trippers to the district’s towns, coast and countryside as holidaymakers are unable to go abroad this year.

- The possible reopening of the hospitality sector and the need to provide facilities to support the visitor economy.

- The significant costs of opening all toilets to meet the government’s COVID-19 enhanced cleaning.

The council has 27 toilets in total and councillors discussed the list of selected sites and the associated costs of opening them with the enhanced cleaning required.

They agreed there was a wider debate around the opening of all toilets and Cabinet has asked for further costings to be produced for re-opening all facilities with amended opening hours.

Cabinet reviewed several options for the opening of the toilets including:

- Extending the opening times of the 14 sites from 8am to 8pm in the summer and 8am to 5pm in the autumn/winter (October to March), which is the chosen option, costing £76,962 for the next nine months.

- Increasing the opening hours for the existing ten toilet sites from 8am until 8pm.

- Opening an additional four sites alongside the ten toilets that are already open until only 4pm each day.

- Extending the opening times from 8am to 8pm across 14 sites.

- Re-opening all 27 toilet sites from 8am to 8pm all year round.

The options ranged in additional costs from £53,282 to £213,135, taking into account the extra staffing required.

The council has a communications plan in place to ensure residents and visitors know about the new toilet re-openings and extended times of the toilets already opened. Information regarding toilet opening hours, and steps the public should take when using these sites can be found on the East Devon website.

Each toilet site will have a map displaying where the nearest public toilet is and their opening times.

Cabinet also agreed to a review of all public toilets in the district and a report on the financial implications of building adaptations to make the facilities COVID-19 secure and of a better standard will be discussed at a later date.

Following the meeting Cllr Geoff Jung, the council’s portfolio holder for the Coast, Countryside and Environment, said: “I am really pleased that we are able to re-open and extend the hours for our public toilet offering.

"As we come out of these most challenging of times we will be aiming to return to our normal high standard of services and facilities, albeit in some places reduced coverage as services have to be COVID-19 compliant which is costing more.”

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