Published: 17:59, 21 April 2021
| Updated: 18:17, 21 April 2021
Business owners in Malling say they have lost trade and even seen people urinating in the streets after the council closed four public toilets.
Loos in Vicarage Close in Aylesford, Court Lane in Hadlow, Rocfort Road car park in Snodland and King Street, West Malling were shut at the beginning of the month in a cost-cutting exercise.
Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council offered to transfer the responsibility of running them to the parish and town councils, which said it would be too expensive and mean having to raise taxes.
Jenny Lonergan, the owner of Bean Rush café in West Malling, feels the closure is a 'disaster' and has put customers off coming to the town.
The closest block is now two miles away in Larkfield.
She said "It's a nightmare. People have driven back there to go to the toilet so it's a disaster for West Malling.
"We have toilets for staff but you have to go through the kitchen so we can't allow customers through.
"The only other toilets are in pubs and restaurants and they won't be able to let just anyone use them with Covid restrictions.
"And customers can't wash their hands because there is nowhere to do it so it's very bad timing."
Of the closures in his town, Siva Subas, owner of Hadlow Groceries and Off Licence said: "There are a lot of people unhappy about it. Some people have even been urinating outside.
"The people who are waiting for the buses are complaining and they ask to use our toilets but they are not insured for public use so we can't let them.
"Our toilet is around the back and we can’t keep an eye on them while we are in the store."
His concerns were echoed by Martin Johnson, owner of The Village Bakery a few doors down, who says he has lost loyal customers.
He said: "People have been using any sort of alleyway they can where the toilets have closed.
"We have cyclists who come here to stop for their cup of coffee and now they have said they won't be doing it any more.
"We're encouraged by the government to get out and exercise but if people come for a walk round here there is nowhere they can use the facilities."
MP for Tonbridge and Malling, Tom Tugendhat, has written to the parish councils, saying it was “disappointing” they had declined to take over the running of the loos as they had more financial “flexibility” than TMBC.
But explaining the decision, Cllr Trudy Dean, the Chairman of West Malling Parish Council said: "Businesses are right to be angry. This is another blow to the vibrancy of the shops and I have every sympathy for them.
"I hope they will understand that what we have been offered is not a good deal as far as the parish is concerned.
"About two thirds of the people who come to the town are not West Malling residents so putting up the council tax by 10%, the amount it would cost to maintain the toilets, doesn't make financial sense."
Karen Sowten, chief executive of Snodland Parish Council, also said the authority calculated it would have to raise Band D council tax by £4.57 a year to cover the costs.
She added: "We didn't just close them without thought, we did take an awful lot into consideration."
Snodland Parish Council has an agreement with the Pavilion Café in Rocfort Road for the public to use their loos, while Hadlow Parish Council has made its toilets, in the Old School Hall building, available. Aylesford council is also looking for alternatives.
Only East Malling and Larkfield parish councils agreed to take on the running of their loos.
A spokesperson for TMBC said the decision was made in the face of reduced government funding and tough spending decisions, and apologised for the inconvenience of any closures.
They added: "We believe parish councils are well placed to run public toilets in their areas and have offered practical as well as financial support to enable them to take on this responsibility."