Consult At Your Convenience

Bridgend Council (BCBC) recently launched a consultation on the future of 13 council-owned and operated public toilets. There’s an online survey available here, and responses have to be in by March 9th. Subject to cabinet approval, any changes could come into effect as early as April 1st.
The reason why BCBC look set to act quickly could be that they’re trying to change public toilet provision before the Public Health Bill is introduced in the National Assembly (Booze, Bans & Bogs), as the Bill is likely to include new legal requirements.Eight of the toilets are staffed during opening hours and five are cleaned/visited “on a routine basis”. The consultation document (doc) says there’s also a star rating system, but due to formatting errors I couldn’t see the ratings.

34% of respondents to an online budget simulator/survey (Bridgend’s Cabinet Expansion & Cuts Consultation) recommended BCBC review public toilets. That includes myself; but I only agreed because I assumed the scheme to give £500 grants to local businesses which open their toilets to the public (“comfort scheme”) was ongoing. In fact it stopped in April 2014 when Welsh Government funding ended.

It’s unclear how much BCBC currently spend on public toilets, but judging by the figures mentioned in the budget consultation, I’ll assume BCBC are aiming to save up to £50,000 a year.

There’s one huge problem with this consultation – BCBC give absolutely no idea what their public toilet strategy is. They ask questions about how frequently you use Bridgend’s public toilets, preferred opening hours and opinions on the “comfort scheme” – that’s fair enough.Until there’s a clear idea of what BCBC would prefer to do though, all that’s left is speculation.
The line of questioning implies BCBC are either looking at closures of lesser-used toilets or reduced service levels – whether that means less regular cleaning, shorter opening hours or a reduction in staff. This would presumably be offset by a reintroduction of the “comfort scheme”.

Another option is that BCBC could choose to go down the same route as Carmarthenshire (more from Carmarthen Planning and Y Cneifiwr), where the local authority transferred control of public toilets to community and town councils. The process is an ongoing farce as transfer of control didn’t come with a transfer of funding.

As you would expect, Carmarthenshire Council are approaching it in their usual open and transparent manner, as the Carmarthenshire bloggers will testify. It’s a shame Bridgend appear to be copying them to a certain degree.

This consultation should’ve started a local debate on why we need local authority public toilets and where they should be. B

Most major supermarkets and transport hubs provide free public toilets, and they’re often better used and maintained than some council facilities – so do we even need local authority toilets anymore?

What about the elderly? At Christmas, my grandparents hailed the cleanliness and upkeep of Porthcawl’s public toilets – as you do – but it underlines how something most of us may take for granted will be seen as an essential service to others.

What of rural areas and tourists? Their use will be seasonal, but there’s no alternative other than bushes. In September 2014, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), Cllr. Ken Watts (Con, Newton) and town councillor Graham Walters (Ind, Newton) joined calls to provide completely new public toilets at Porthcawl’s Newton beach. It’s unlikely that project would be led by Bridgend Council now.

Should we have fewer, more modern, public toilets with proper facilities for baby changing, menstruation and the disabled?

Should people pay to use local authority toilets?

Should BCBC introduce mainland European-style free-standing urinals?

How should any revamped “comfort scheme” be signed and advertised?

These are all questions BCBC could’ve asked the public but didn’t. It’s often what public bodies leave out of consultations like this which worries me; if they don’t give you the full picture, they usually have a nasty surprise coming…