Bid to have 30p toilet charge scrapped fails

Hawick's Common Haugh public toilets.
Hawick's Common Haugh public toilets.

Last week’s decision to introduce a 30p entry charge at 27 of the 41 public toilets across the Borders, including three in Hawick, 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 yesterday in a bid to overturn the executive’s decision to phase in the charges over the next financial year.

The Tory group claimed there had been a lack of public consultation despite the issue being of great importance and 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 Hawick and Denholm councillors Watson McAteer and Stuart Marshall.

Mr Marshall claimed the decision to introduce the charges was acting against attempts to improve tourism in the area and, giving the example of the Common Haugh facilities, he told the committee: “Here we have the biggest free car park within the Scottish Borders with more than 400 parking spaces. “This entire area attracts thousands of users throughout the year – the funfair at the common riding, the circus in August, the Armistice parade in November, the reivers’ festival in the spring and, of course, the Saturday market, to name but a few – and we, as council, now want to start charging all of these visitors 30p for using the public conveniences located within it.

“Personally, I think there should have been much more consultation on this, and I feel it has been sprung on us at very short notice.”

Hawick and Hermitage councillors Davie Paterson and Ron Smith, plus Hawick and Denholm’s Alastair Cranston, remained in support of the 30p charge.

Mr 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.”

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.

Mr McAteer and Mr Marshall backed Mr Turnbull and Mr Paterson, Mr Cranston and Mr Smith voted against the motion.

The 30p charge will be introduced at the authority’s public toilets in Hawick at the Common Haugh, Howegate and Volunteer Park but not at Denholm’s loos.

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.