Blackboy Road toilets are one of the 15 proposed to shut
More than half of Exeter’s public toilets will close after scrutiny councillors chose not to take any action over the decision.
A decision had previously been made by Exeter City Council’s executive to close 15 of the 26 toilets that the city council operate. However, led by Cllr Chris Musgrave, from the Green Party, that decision was called in for further scrutiny.
But a meeting of the city council’s Place Scrutiny Committee on Friday night resolved to take no further action in regards to the decision, agreeing that the executive had made their decision in a correct manner.
Had they chose to refer the decision back to the executive, the committee would have had to identify £60,000 of savings to be made from the budget at the meeting, but no suggestion of where the money could be found came forward.
Cllr Musgrave in asking for the decision to be reconsidered said he feared the closures would lead to an increase in street urination. He said: “I am against the closure of toilets. The savings are small and the benefits to the public is large. The toilets in Musgrave Row, in the city centre, had been by the leader in 2016 promised to be kept open in the evening for the homeless population, so this closure is problematic in view of the PSPO for the city.
“There will be more street urination, we will be issuing fines to homeless who cannot pay, and it just creates a bigger problem.” He also added that carers and people with health issues have not been properly catered for in this decision.
But Cllr David Harvey, the portfolio holder for place and commercialisation, said that the council already offers a wide range of support for those who are genuinely homeless and they have attracted £1m of funding towards their ambition to end rough sleeping within five years.
He added: “The toilets already close at 7pm at night so the homeless cannot use them then. Our experience is that the homeless do not use the toilets in the way the public do as the toilets are unpleasant and attract a great deal of drug use and anti-social behaviour. The police have not identified this as a problem and in fact support the closure of the toilets where this is anti-social behaviour.”
David Bartram, city council director, said that it was most certainly not a popular decision but one that had been forced on the council. He added that the council had undertaken a rigorous equalities impact assessment and it concluded that it would have a high impact, but the council is only required to consider the impacts.
He said: “We don’t have to mitigate against them and we are allowed to make decisions that have a negative impact if you have a good reason, and in this one, budget cuts mean we have to cut non-statutory services. It will have a high impact. But it is not a total withdrawal of the services, and there will be 11 public toilets and there will still be an abundance of publically accessible alternatives in the city centre.”
Cllr Harvey added that all members of the executive had been presented with the report before the meeting and it was his belief that all of them had read it.
Leader of the council, Cllr Pete Edwards, said that it was a difficult and unpopular decision, but one that had been dealt with properly. He added that while councillors had called for the toilets to be kept open, no-one had said where the £60,000 of savings the council would legally be required to find would come from.
Cllr Judy Pattison asked what other cost implications there would be if the committee chose to refer the decision back to the executive.
Mr Bartram said that as the majority of the public toilets set to close are in a poor condition, it would cost in the region of £700,000 to refurbish them to an acceptable standard.
Cllr Kevin Mitchell said he had concerns about closing toilets and that the logical way for would have been to try and implement the community toilets scheme, see if it works, and then close toilets, rather than just closing them and then thinking about it.
Cllr David Henson added that councillors at this meeting were finding things out for the first time, after Mr Bartram revealed that some of the toilets are leased, so if they were closed, the toilets in Fore Street would revert back to the Fire Service and Cowick Street to Network Rail.
But Cllr Keith Owen said that he did believe the executive were in a position to make the decision they did. He added: “It may have been unpopular but they were in a position to and made it in a correct manner. What has been made clear is that if we are to refer this back, we have to identify £60,000 of savings, and my concern is that this would have to come off front line services, as we have got to the point where we have cut everything else.”
Cllr Pattison added that as they would have to present in writing alternative budget savings, she proposed taking no further action on the decision of the executive.
The recommendation was agreed by six votes to two, with one abstention.
Recommended for permanent closure:
- Cathedral & Quay Car Park (closed in 2016 due to repeated anti-social behaviour), Guinea Street (closed in 2016 due to vandalism, heavy drug use and repeated anti-social behaviour), Blackboy Road, King William Street, Cowick Lane, Ennerdale Way, Hamlin Lane, Higher Cemetery, Buddle Lane, Musgrave Row, Okehampton Street, Fore Street Heavitree, Cowick Street, Fore Street Topsham, Whipton (Pinhoe Road)
Recommended for retention:
- Cowick Barton Playing fields, Exeter Quay, Exwick Cemetery (In mess room), Heavitree Park, Honiton P&R, King George V, Matford Park & Ride, St Thomas Park, Topsham Cemetery, Topsham Quay