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Public toilets in Canterbury, Herne Bay and Whitstable could be shut or charges introduced

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Public loos across the Canterbury district could be shut or people charged to use them as the council looks to make savings of £50,000.

The authority wants to reduce its annual budget “either through the closure of public toilets or other means such as income generation”.

The public toilets near the east gate of Whitstable Harbour
The public toilets near the east gate of Whitstable Harbour

It is also looking at introducing gender-neutral toilets as part of a review of its service - although these would likely be self-contained single bathrooms with an external door.

Council leader Ben Fitter-Harding says the move to save cash follows financial pressures caused by the pandemic.

“The overall annual budget for public loos is about half-a-million pounds, which to maintain the loos we’ve got - which aren’t the best standard in the world - is a huge amount of money,” he said.

“The budget savings target is £50,000, or about 10% of the public toilets budget.

“We’re considering a range of options including closures, reprovisioning - closing a toilet in bad condition to provide a better and more economical facility elsewhere - and charging.

“There won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to how we do this, and the working group is committed to continuing to provide toilet facilities, including Changing Places toilets, across the district.”

Canterbury City Council leader Cllr Ben Fitter-Harding
Canterbury City Council leader Cllr Ben Fitter-Harding

He added: “Public loos aren’t a statutory service. Many councils don’t provide them.

“We don’t believe that’s the right thing for our district - it’s a valued service that we provide.”

A new Public Toilets Working Group will start by reviewing the condition of the 32 public loos across the district.

Members are considering whether bathrooms should be monetised through the introduction of a pay-per-use charge for those caught short.

Councillors will also look at “recent public requests for gender neutral public toilet provision”.

Cllr Fitter-Harding says these would likely be in the form of unisex units that are “a completely self-contained bathroom with an external door”.

The St George's public toilets on Central Parade, Herne Bay
The St George's public toilets on Central Parade, Herne Bay

He said: “Where we have separate male and female toilets and can provide unisex toilets of better quality for less money, I think that’s probably in the interest of not only our taxpayers but all users of public convenience.”

Another money-saving idea on the table is the introduction of more community-run toilet schemes.

Such a system is already in place in Beltinge, where a former disabled toilet now operates as a unisex loo and is opened and closed by villagers.

The working group will also look as schemes in which businesses can opt in to allow members of the public to use their bathroom facilities.

More Changing Places toilets could also be introduced. These facilities provide additional equipment and space so people with disabilities can use them with greater ease than standard accessible loos.

The cross-party group - made up of seven councillors - will report back its proposals to generate the £50,000 savings to the council’s Policy Committee next month, in time for this autumn’s budget consultation.

It will then prepare a report for March 2022 looking at longer-term options such as the future management of public loos once the council’s current contract expires at the end of March 2024, and the availability of external funding opportunities.

The group will also look at alternative types of bathrooms such as composting loos - an eco-friendly type of toilet that sees human waste broken down into a compost-like material - and “auto locking and cleaning” bathrooms.

Read more: All the latest news from Canterbury

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