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Maidstone public loos at risk

Members of the committee visiting toilets as part of their review. Picture: John Wardley
Members of the committee visiting toilets as part of their review. Picture: John Wardley

Pubs, shops and restaurants could be asked to open up their loos to the public, while Maidstone council embarks on a series of closures of public conveniences.

The town centre loos in Church Street, those at Park Wood and Shepway, as well as a string of little-used rural conveniences could be shut, if the recommendations of a scrutiny committee are adopted.

Councillors considering a report on Maidstone’s public loos from street scene manager David Hitchings were surprised to hear that the borough’s 24 loos were costing £524,000 a year.

Committee chairman Cllr Annabelle Blackmore (Con) described the costs as “rather alarming.”

Citing the example of the Yalding loos, where a two-day survey had concluded the average use was only 26 visits daily, Cllr Blackmore said: “We do need to take some action.”

Cllr Robert Field (Lib Dem), who represents Park Wood ward, suggested the toilets in Park Wood Parade could be closed without too much inconvenience. He said: “Typically people who use the parade live nearby and it’s probably reasonable to expect them to return home to use their own toilets if necessary.”

Cllr Blackmore drew attention to Staplehurst’s having two sets of public conveniences: “One at the bottom of the hill and one at the top.”

She suggested that it might be possible to stagger their opening hours, so that at any time only one or the other was open.

The loos in Church Street at the foot of the Somerfield multi-storey car park are only leased by the council and the lease expires in 2012. The committee felt that they could easily be replaced by opening the council’s own loos to the public at its new Gatehouse building almost opposite.

Members felt more should be done to sound out the idea of private firms joining a “community scheme”. The system had worked well in Richmond and elsewhere. Typically the companies are paid a contribution towards their cleaning costs of around £600 a year by the council as compensation.

There was also a need for better signage to ensure the public made the most use of the facilities that were available.

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