Pressure continues to be put on Local Authorities to protect the future of public toilet provision for Pembrokeshire.
Petitions have been set up calling for Pembrokeshire County Council to rethink any closure plans, whilst councillors across the county continue to urge the Local Authority to scrap any proposals, with suggestions to shut any public conveniences in seaside and coastal resorts, labelled ‘ludicrous’ by members of Tenby Town Council earlier this year.
Tenby’s toilets alongside North Beach and in Upper Frog Street are included in a list of facilities due to close on November 5 this year, unless a future funding stream is identified, PCC revealed, with county councillor for the seaside town’s north ward Cllr Michael Williams accusing the Local Authority of being in ‘danger of contravening the wellbeing act’ should they start to shut such facilities.
The matter came up for discussion again at this month’s meeting of Tenby Town Council, after receiving a response from the offices of Rebecca Evans, Welsh Government minister for Finance and Local Government.
The correspondence stated: ‘I understand your concerns – and those of your fellow councillors - in relation to the proposed closure of a number of public toilets in Tenby. The provision, accessibility and maintenance of public toilets is the responsibility of each toilet’s owner e.g. a local authority, a community council, or business.
‘Local authorities may provide public toilets, but are not obliged to do so. Public toilets do not, therefore, generally fall within the remit of the Welsh Government’s responsibilities, and we cannot intervene in the decision making of local authorities or businesses in this regard.
‘There are currently no plans to legislate to make the provision of public conveniences a statutory requirement. The lead in this area would be the Minister for Health and Social Services.
‘The Public Health (Wales) Act 2017 requires each local authority to develop and publish a local toilet strategy for their area to ensure that the communities’ needs are identified and met. Local authorities have been encouraged to consider toilet provision within other buildings within their control and to look for solutions to provision beyond the traditional stand-alone public toilet.
‘The Welsh Government produced statutory guidance for local authorities on what they needed to do to develop their toilet strategies and how they should engage with their respective populations.
‘I note that Pembrokeshire has published its Local Toilets Strategy in 2019, and that it has recently consulted on its Draft Local Toilets Strategy 2 which includes an assessment of the community’s need for toilets and also how the Local Authority proposes to meet the need.
‘The duty to prepare a strategy does not in itself require Local Authorities to provide and maintain public toilets themselves, but they are required to take a strategic view across their area on how these facilities can be provided and accessed by their local population.
‘Asset transfers between principal and community councils can be beneficial in a number of cases, such as where both parties are aware of the ongoing responsibilities, that post-transfer support is in place and that the transfer is sustainable.
‘The Minister for Finance and Local Government would be concerned if communities were facing a double taxation through council tax but also a raise in the precept as a result of an asset transfer where there was no discernible change in service,’ it added.
Town council member Cllr Emma Lewis told her colleagues that she felt that the point was being missed, particularly in relation to people with protected characteristics.
She said that a lack of toilet provision discourages people from spending too much time in town, which impacts Tenby’s retail and hospitality businesses. Tourists may expect to pay for use of the toilets but for residents it is different.
She wondered if it would it be worthwhile contacting the Minister for Health and Social Services on the matter further.
Cllr Sam Skyrme-Blackhall told members that there are still ongoing talks with PCC and with the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority in relation to toilet provision, and pressure continues to be put on them.
She said she felt things were progressing and it seemed that only the market toilets were earmarked for closing due to the poor state of them.
“Nothing is set in stone, regarding the North Beach, and PCC are aware that we need them due to the volume of people in town,” she remarked.
Cllr Laurence Blackhall said he would be ‘loathed’ as a town council to step up and fund toilet provision from the precept, stating: “We need to continue to put pressure on various agencies, or else it will be a slippery slope and we will be funding everything PCC wants to stop providing!”
Cllr. Duncan Whitehurst felt that the Welsh Government strategy was not fit for purpose. He felt allowing unitary authorities to develop their own strategies enabled them to manipulate the process for closures.
“Welsh Government need to return to the drawing board and develop something that works for the people of Wales,” he said.
“PCC consulted on their strategy. Toilet closures was the most negatively received proposal within their budget consultation. It is deeply unpopular and if PCC cared about the views of the people of Pembrokeshire, they wouldn’t be closing any,” added Cllr Whitehurst.
Cllr Skyrme-Blackhall felt more pressure was needed especially with PCNPA.
“PCC have hinted at library closures as well as toilets unless someone else pays. We need to get them to pull the brakes on, otherwise where will it end!” she added.