Last week’s decision to introduce a 30p entry charge at 27 of the region’s 41 public toilets, including six across Berwickshire, will stand despite being challenged by opposition members of Scottish Borders Council.
A group of six Conservative members led by Hawick and Hermitage councillor George Turnbull asked to call in the decision for further scrutiny at the council’s full meeting last Thursday in a bid to overturn the executive’s decision.
Last week the council agreed to phase in the charges over the next financial year, with those toilets affected including those in Eyemouth at the Bantry car park and harbour, at Coldstream’s courthouse car park, at St Abbs Harbour, at Coldingham Sands and in Duns at Briery Baulk.
However, the Tory group claimed there had been a lack of public consultation despite the issue being of great importance and public interest.
Mr Turnbull said: “There is no suggestion in this proposal that the quality of the facilities will be improved, and we believe charging the public for the privilege of using them is counterproductive when we are desperately trying to attract more visitors to the region to help regenerate our towns.”
“The Conservative group believes the projected savings are over-optimistic given the likelihood that there will be public resistance to the charges and that the machines are likely to be a magnet for theft and vandalism.”
He was backed up by Tweeddale East councillor Gavin Logan who added: “I think we are putting the cart before the horse here. We should engage with the public, we have to go through a consultation and find out what the people of the Borders think and then made a decision.”
Council leader David Parker said that while he had “some degree of sympathy” with the issues raised he defended the original decision as being the correct one. In response to Mr Turnbull’s concerns over the projected income not being met, he claimed the charge will help increase the standard of the facilities and therefore the amount of people using them.
Councillor Davie Paterson said that if the council does not make the savings within non-statutory services such as public conveniences, then they will have to be found elsewhere.
He said: “We have a large geographical area to cover in the Borders, and we have had to make some extremely hard decisions.
“Whoever gets in as the next administration, difficult decisions will have to be taken.”
Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell, the council’s executive member for economic development assured the committee that “the executive still fully support the provision of public conveniences” and went on to brand the debate as “preposterous”.
Mr Turnbull’s motion to overturn last week’s decision was outvoted 19-11 by council leader David Parker’s call for the original decision to be accepted.
After an initial capital outlay of £200,000 to install automated entry machines at the selected facilities, the regime is expected to achieve full year savings of £211,000 for a council which currently spends £323,000 a year maintaining 41 public toilets.
Savings of £141,000 are predicted in 2017-18 and are included in the administration’s revenue budget.
Further facilities affected include the authority’s public toilets in Galashiels at its High Street car park, Bank Street gardens and transport interchange; in Hawick at the Common Haugh, Howegate and Volunteer Park; in Peebles at Kingsmeadows, the Eastgate car park and School Brae; in Jedburgh at Lothian Park and its tourist information centre; in Kelso at Shedden Park and Woodmarket; Selkirk Market Place; Innerleithen’s Hall Street; the Avenue in Lauder; Earlston bus station; St Boswells’ Main Street; Melrose’s Abbey Place; Newcastleton’s Langholm Street; and St Mary’s Loch in the Yarrow Valley.
The council-run toilets that will remain free are those at Chirnside, Greenlaw, Burnmouth, Cockburnspath, Jedburgh’s Lothian car park, Kelso’s Croft Park, Yetholm, Morebattle, Greenyards in Melrose, Selkirk’s Scotts Place, Denholm, West Linton and Broughton.