Public toilet closure plans flushed away

Public Toilets, Dalkeith.
Public Toilets, Dalkeith.

Officers’ recommendations to close the five public toilets in Midlothian were rejected last week with councillors keen to explore unmanned toilets.

In a bid to save the council money officers called for the closure of the toilets in Penicuik, Dalkeith, Gorebridge, Loanhead and Bonnyrigg, which in 2016/17 cost £100,000 to run and £18,900 for repairs.

Instead councillors chose to keep the toilets open but with reduced staffing levels from two full time equivalents to 1.07 full time staff.

They also called on a full report into the possibility of using automated conveniences.

The five public toilets are currently open seven days a week 9am - 6pm, maintained and cleaned by two full-time staff who work a three day and four day rota 8.15am- 7.15pm.

They are used 207,636 times a year, with Dalkeith by far the busiest with 92,040 users and Gorebridge the quietest with 5,356.

Council leader Derek Milligan (Lab) said: “We would like to hear more about automated conveniences as we can provide a service and cut the cost to the council which we would welcome. I would like to see a more detailed breakdown and time scale for that.

“If they could pay for themselves then why not. The reality is, to simply close down public toilets, we can’t agree with that.”

Cllr Margot Russell (Lab) said: “There was a strength of feeling among the population that the toilets needed to remain open. This paper highlights that the toilets are well used. That to my mind makes the case to retain the toilets.

“While it’s not ideal to reduce staffing times, it’s a better alternative to closing.”

SNP group leader Kelly Parry agreed with the Labour members but added that “it was right” to have a review.

The Conservatives wanted to close all public conveniences, sell the resultant vacant land and install new automatic self cleaning 24 hours public conveniences in the three town centres of Bonnyrigg, Dalkieth, and Penicuik. Their group leader Cllr Pauline Winchester said: “I have to say without public toilets I still manage to find a toilet wherever I am in Midlothian. Pubs, shops, restaurants always let you use their toilets if you ask.

“So I would like to go for the automated toilets as soon as possible. They are perfectly suitable for use.”

The report before councillors stated that this option would generate an estimated £18,000 a year.

While the five Conservative councillors voted for this option, Labour and SNP councillors voted together (13) to keep the toilets open with reduced staffing and to receive a report about automated toilets.