Friday, 13 December 2013

Toilets To Be Proud Of

Last night there was a meeting in the Parish Hall about the future of the public toilets in Hay. It wasn't packed out, but there were still about 50 people there, and all of the councillors who could make it. Rob Golesworthy thought it was worth putting on his Mayoral chain for the evening.

Earlier in the day, the Chief Executive of Powys County Council, Jeremy Patterson, and Paul Griffiths, the Director of Powys Highways, came for a private meeting with Hay Council. They took them to see the toilets at the top of Hay car park, and suggested strongly that it would be a good idea to have a small levy on top of the car park charge to pay for them.
Then they went back to the Council Chambers, where a "small but vociferous" protest rally was being held outside the Clock Tower toilets. The petition against the closures started by Ellie Spencer gained 1,122 signatures, with an online version hosted by 38 Degrees and a paper version.

At the meeting with the councillors, a few concessions were made. If Hay Town Council sends a letter of intent to take over the toilets, the Cabinet may delay the closure to April 2014 to enable them to get the funding in place. They also agreed to look at the possibility of a levy on the car park, first of all to see if the idea was legal, and then (if it is) at a mechanism to get the money to Hay. They are considering raising the car parking charges across the county anyway. A levy of 5p per ticket would raise £14,000 and a 10p levy would raise £28,000, based on the number of cars using the car park last year (280,000). Hay doesn't get the car park money because in 1974 the town council gave responsibility for the car park over to Powys.
The toilets are expected to cost £13,393 for the ones at the car park and £6,373 for the clock tower toilets - Rob had a breakdown of the figures from the county council, including water, sewage, electricity, rates, cleaning and toilet rolls, and a climate levy of £13 a year. There's also an annual health and safety inspection charge, which has to be done by law.
They will give their answer early in the New Year. The town precept (which is the amount of money Hay gets from the council tax to run everything they are responsible for in the town) is £13,900 and Hay council have to set the amount of the precept that they need by the 24th January.

If the Cabinet don't agree to these things - what then?
Rob Golesworthy was adamant that the toilets would not be closed down, even if he has to clean them himself! They are too important to the future of the town.

Dawn Lewis, one of the new councillors, has been in touch with someone at the National Park - I think it was the Sustainable Tourism Manager, and she also mentioned a Mr Tyler who is the Director of Countryside. They are concerned about what the county council are doing, but feel it is not their place to lobby them. They agreed that Hay is the jewel in the crown of the area as far as tourism is concerned, and raises a lot of money.

The Disabled Access Group are also looking for a meeting with the county council, as they want to ensure that disabled people are able to get to toilets when they need them. There may be a legal issue with closure, as disabled people are a "protected group" which needs to be catered for.

The other options the town council have are to ask volunteers to clean the toilets, to start charging for the use of the toilets, to find another local body willing to fund the toilets, such as the Chamber of Commerce. This could start off on a voluntary basis, like paying for the Christmas lights.
Another possibility would be to increase the precept, meaning that the council tax payments for everyone in Hay would go up by around £10. But this would mean charging the people who, on the whole, don't use the toilets, rather than putting the cost onto the visitors who do.
There is a grant available of £6,500 a year from the county council to run the toilets - but this doesn't remotely cover the cost.

The use of volunteers was considered to be a bad idea - it might start well, but people would drop out and leave others to carry the load, and it would be better to hire someone to do the cleaning, because then there would be someone to hold to account for the state of the toilets. One suggestion was that if Hay, Talgarth and Glasbury got together, the cleaning of all those toilets could be the basis for a start up business for someone.

At a recent meeting in Glasbury, a group of volunteers have come forward to run the toilets themselves (they are trying to set up a Trust), and the meeting was practically unanimous in agreeing that the precept in Glasbury should be raised to pay for the toilets. But as Anna of Drover Holidays pointed out - they don't have a car park to raise money from.

There were worries about vandalism - some towns that started to charge for their toilets found that people were breaking the locks and causing damage. However in Llandovery, vandalism went down. Luke of Drover Holidays pointed out that the problem with vandalism wasn't whether the toilets were free or cost money, but anti-social behaviour generally, and if it wasn't the toilets, it would be something else in town that was damaged.
Rob said that the last time the toilets at the car park were seriously damaged, it was by adults from out of town. They were caught on CCTV. There's also a problem in that one of the gent's toilets by the clock tower is broken, and the county council will not mend it.
One of the ways to combat vandalism would be to lock the toilets earlier, around 5.30pm, but there are people around town in the evenings who can't always go into pubs to use the toilets, such as the boys who ride their BMXs around. It could also be a problem for walkers and canoeists who come to the town out of business hours.
Just recently Hay became a "Walkers Are Welcome" town, and the early closure of the toilets in the evenings might jeopardise that status. Talgarth and Crickhowell are also "Walkers Are Welcome" towns, and it would be worth getting in touch with them and working something out together.
Another suggestion for raising money would be to sell advertising space in the toilets. Gareth is going to look into the cost of turnstiles and coin operated locks. Anne Brichto suggested that booksellers could leave some surplus books in the toilets - "spend a penny and get a free book".
Another suggestion was to turn the toilets into "eco-loos", with solar panels for the lighting, and cisterns that use less water.
If anyone else has ideas - the council would love to hear them!

1 comment:

eric said...

the car park charge sounds great - but then again its currently free so that whole are needs thinking about.

Powys gave £11k last year 20 hay festival - that could be diverted to the toilets, the festival has to stand up now, its over 25 years old.
It also had 60k from the arts council, public money needs to be spent more wisely.......