Councillor criticises council decision to remove automated public toilets

An automated toilet in Avenue Road, Harold Wood

One of the automated toilets, in Avenue Road, Harold Wood, that Havering Council has decided to remove. - Credit: Google

A councillor has criticised Havering Council after it decided to remove seven public toilets across the borough despite holding off on a community toilet scheme.

A non-key executive decision was signed off last month to take automated conveniences away in Appleton Way, Hornchurch, Hilldene Avenue, Harold Hill, Avenue Road, Harold Wood, Cherry Tree Lane, Rainham, Station Parade, Elm Park and locations in Collier Row and Upminster Bridge.

Usage increased at four of the seven toilets during operational months in 2020 compared to the previous year, though in 2019 it fell across the seven facilities by a total of 12.7 per cent on 2018.

The council said the toilets cost £190,000 a year to maintain, which amounted to around £13 a use.

The authority intends to implement a Community Toilet Scheme, already in place in Newham, where businesses allow the public to use their toilet facilities.

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But a council report said: "Due to the ongoing Covid-19 public health emergency, it is not considered an appropriate time to be encouraging businesses to open doors to additional (potentially non-paying) customers.

"Given the successful implementation of schemes in other boroughs, it is recommended that this be considered at a later date."

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It added that two automated conveniences, in South Street, Romford and at Gidea Park Station, would remain as they are part of a wider advertising contract.

The decision to remove the toilets has been criticised by Labour group leader Keith Darvill, who described it as "a bad move all round".

The Heaton ward councillor said the move would add to footfall issues in some of the shopping areas.

He also accused the council of failing to involve ward councillors in the affected areas.

Cllr Darvill told the Recorder: "If there are no public conveniences, people will not go to the shops so much. It will have a knock-on effect on the businesses.

"It's treating different areas differently. The Upminster public toilets are still open and being financed and the Gidea Park one is remaining, the South Street one in Romford is remaining.

"I appreciate this comes from cutbacks from central government year in, year out and local authorities having to look at different ways of saving money but I think there are some basic public services that we have to hold onto.

"I would want them (the council) to retain them on that basis. I am not against change for the sake of being opposed to it but I think we have got a duty to residents to make sure those facilities are available."

Cllr Darvill raised the issue at a meeting of the towns and communities overview and scrutiny sub-committee earlier this month.

He told the meeting: "I'm very concerned about this, the public will be very concerned. It's already been drawn to my attention by a number of people in my ward.

"I just think that this decision should not have been made in these circumstances.

"The larger effect will happen when the shops fully re-open, then it will be a major effect if the community toilet scheme has not been implemented.

"If the majority of shopkeepers are not going to co-operate with this scheme, it's not going to work."

At the meeting, Conservative councillor Timothy Ryan, who represents Brooklands ward, also said he had been contacted by a resident concerned about the issue.

When asked what advice it would give to residents who require toilet facilities when out in shopping areas, a council spokesperson said: "There are still facilities available in Romford town centre and Gidea Park.  

"Until more shops and food outlets safely reopen we are unable to advise further, particularly as government advice continues to be to stay at home."

They revealed that the authority is set to consult with people and businesses over the summer on the community toilet scheme.

On why the toilets were being removed before the scheme comes in, the spokesperson added: "The contract with JC Decaux had expired. The age of the units meant that continuing to use them beyond their ‘shelf life’ would pose a risk in terms of being able to obtain now obsolete parts."

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