ALL but two of Edinburgh’s public toilets would close under controversial budget cut proposals.
Sixteen loos across the city would be shut permanently, saving £250,000. The only ones that would be retained would be at Cramond and Pipe Lane, Portobello, which would open in the summer for beach-goers.
The council would try to offset the closures by stepping up its “community toilet scheme”, which pays businesses £500 a year for allowing members of the public to use their loos. Only nine businesses are signed up to the scheme.
Finance convener Alasdair Rankin stressed the closure proposal had been drawn up by council officials and had not yet been endorsed by the SNP-Labour administration. “No decision has been taken,” he said.
But he said public toilets often attracted antisocial behaviour, vandalism, drunkenness and even drug dealing, which meant some were not places people wanted to use.
“There is also a question of maintenance,” he said. “Some of them are in very poor condition and require quite a lot of investment to bring them up to a reasonable standard and there’s a question of how long they would remain in a reasonable standard.
“We are looking at what the officers are proposing and we may end up with some amended version of what they are suggesting.”
Cllr Rankin said the community toilet scheme offered a different model. “If we were to accept these proposals, we would be looking to push that forward in a more systematic way,” he said. But Tory city centre Cllr Joanna Mowat said public toilets were “a really valued service” and claimed closures would mean people with conditions that meant they needed to go to the loo more frequently would be “locked out” of certain areas. She said: “If this proposal were to go forward, it would be met with horror by the general public.”
And she was sceptical about paying pubs and cafes to allow the public to use their loos. “The community toilet scheme has not been embraced by small businesses,” she said. “You’re more likely to find ‘Patrons Only’ notices than the council sticker. I’m not convinced that’s a workable solution.”
Green Cllr Alex Staniforth said his MSP colleague Alison Johnstone won support at Holyrood last week for a change to planning laws on toilets and public drinking water.
“This will require councils to demonstrate how they are going to improve public toilets and drinking water taps,” he said. “So it would be perverse for the council to be shutting facilities only then to have to build new ones.”
He said there had been very little uptake of the community toilet scheme so far, adding: “It’s certainly no reason for the council to withdraw services.”
Lib Dem Cllr Kevin Lang said any move to close the public loo at Hawes Pier in South Queensferry was unacceptable.
“This is one of the biggest tourist destinations not just in the city, but in Scotland,” he said. “We need to make sure people arriving at Queensferry get a great first impression.”
Cllr Lang said the council received more than £250,000 a year in docking fees from cruise liners and argued there were not many businesses close by to offer their loos. “Fundamentally, I think it is a role for the council, especially when it is profiting, as in the case of Queensferry, from tourists coming in,” he said.