(A report presented by Phil Perry, Head of Place and Space)
With the Chairman’s permission, the Leader of the Council addressed the Committee on a matter of urgency. Having taken the decision, in liaison with the Chairman, to keep the town’s public toilets open overnight on a 3-month trial basis, starting on 2nd September, with the Council to pay for the costs, the Leader reported the substantial damage that had since been inflicted on the facilities. The decision had been taken in response to calls for the facilities to be available to reduce incidents of urination and defecation during the night. As there had been no evidence of any reduction in such incidents during this period, the Leader asked for the Committee’s views on whether this trial should be terminated early, as considerable costs would be incurred if it was run for the entire 3 months. Furthermore, the toilets were mainly for daytime use and it was reasonable for people to expect them to be in good working order.
The Leader read out some of the details of the vandalism and costs. A breakdown of the costs incurred so far had been shown to the Chairman and could be e-mailed to BTAC Members. The damage was primarily to the Central Park toilets and drug paraphernalia was also left there, a health and safety risk in itself. The Leader accepted that the trial could continue for the full 3 months if the Committee wished to have more data, but stressed the costs, health risks and facilities not being usable for the majority accessing the toilets during the day.
During debate, there was a view that the trial should end immediately in order to prevent the waste of public money and protect the Council’s assets, which the Committee maintained and that opening the toilets at night did not address problems of urination and anti-social behaviour.
In response to an assertion that problems of vandalism etc. had been occurring when the toilets opened at their normal early-morning opening time, the Leader confirmed that the number of incidents occurring had dramatically increased since the facilities were left open overnight and had done so as soon as the overnight opening had commenced. More innovative solutions to the problems referred to could be considered instead, though even if the vandalism and anti-social behaviour had not occurred, the 24-hour opening had not reduced incidents of urination and defecation so it would be difficult to substantiate the cost of, for example, anti-vandal toilets and how this would be funded. Solutions working in other areas could be explored.
Another view expressed was that the full trial period should, perhaps, be considered, particularly as the trial was started in response to issues raised at a meeting called by the public, so that the evidence was clear that the trial was not working. Members then went on to discuss concerns about rough-sleeping, highlighted by one facility being used overnight for this purpose.
Members discussed possible options. As mentioned by the Chief Inspector, people congregated in Central Park; therefore, the other two facilities did not need to be open at night. However, it was at the Central Park toilets where most of the vandalism had occurred; therefore, it would be best to close these. It was possible that problems might move to the other facilities, but some action had to be taken, as, in addition to the cost of vandalism and health risks of drug paraphernalia, there was the costs of Council workers having to clear up the mess and deal with damage, as well as residents not being able to use facilities that they paid for. On the other hand, a commitment had been made to run a 3-month trial and the evidence that the opening had had no impact on incidents of urination and defecation could be classed as anecdotal. The information on the costs and damage needed to be fed back to those who had called for the public meeting on the matter.
The Leader then formally requested that the Head of Place and Space should action the overnight closure of the Central Park toilets.
The Head of Place and Space then presented the regular report detailing the work undertaken by the BTAC Operatives.
In response to questions, it was explained that cast iron bins were refurbished and reused whenever possible. Plastic bins that had been vandalised, thrown in the river etc., were replaced with cast iron bins. Any cast iron bins that could not be refurbished would be disposed of through a scrap merchant.