Spending a penny is about to cost 30 times that proverbial amount at most of the Borders’ public conveniences, including three in Hawick.
Scottish Borders Council is to introduce a 30p charge at 27 of its 41 public conveniences across the region in the hope of narrowing a revenue funding gap of £9m over the next financial year.
The selected facilities will be unstaffed, but they will be fitted with automated machines affording paying customers access via a paddle-gate entry system.
Charging is not deemed to be viable at the authority’s other 14 toilets, including Denholm’s, because they are not used often enough, but they will continue to be maintained by the council.
The move, approved at Tuesday’s meeting of the authority’s executive committee, is predicted to deliver annual revenue savings of £211,000.
The council spends £323,000 a year maintaining the current level of free provision, the meeting heard.
“Given the financial context, doing nothing is not an option,” stated Jason Hedley, the council’s area manager for neighbourhood services, in a report to the executive, stressing that the council had no statutory obligation to provide public conveniences.
He acknowledged that the possibility of the council closing down its entire public toilet network had been considered, but he said that would be potentially negative for the economic performance of the Borders and discriminatory against certain groups and places where no alternative provision in public buildings, pubs or restaurants could be identified.
He added: “Provision of public conveniences must change to ensure a financial and environmentally efficient service can be maintained.”
Having reviewed usage and researched how other Scottish local authorities operated, Mr Hedley recommended that a 30p charge be introduced at the authority’s public toilets in Hawick at the Common Haugh, Howegate and Volunteer Park.
It will also apply at public conveniences in Galashiels at its High Street car park, Bank Street gardens and transport interchange; 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.
Charges are on the way too at loos 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.
Mr Hedley said stakeholders including community councils would be advised of the decision “during the first half of 2017” and implementation would be phased in thereafter.
Councillors heard that the cost of adapting the 27 toilets would be £200,000 and that annual gross income is estimated at £357,000.
The council’s annual manpower costs will remain the same at around £151,000.
Tweeddale West councillor Catriona Bhatia asked for a final decision to be delayed until the council’s budget meeting next Thursday to give elected members time to consider the list of facilities where charging would be introduced, but the executive voted 7-5 to approve Mr Hedley’s recommendation for implementation.
This will not be the first time the council has charged the public to use its toilets.
Up until 2008, a 25p charge was levied at eight staffed locations – in Hawick, Selkirk Galashiels, Melrose, Jedburgh, Kelso, St Boswells and Peebles – but the scheme was abandoned as its annual staffing costs of £177,000 outstripped its income of £65,000.
Besides Denholm’s, the council-run toilets that will remain free to use 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, West Linton and Broughton.