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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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Battle to save Cumbrian town’s only public toilets lost

Whitehaven's only public toilet block could soon be demolished - after councilors confirmed that it will not reopen.

Whitehaven toilets photo
The toilets are likely to be demolished

Copeland council has agreed that its Market Place toilets will not reopen, despite a 2,000-signature protest call for it.

And Copeland leader Elaine Woodburn added that because the closed toilet block was still costing the council money, the building would be demolished in the near future unless a group came forward to take it over.

“The days of this council providing public toilets are over,” said Miss Woodburn. “We now need to set a timescale to allow for any interested parties to potentially take over the Whitehaven block, otherwise it will be knocked down. It’s still costing us money, which defeats the object of closing it in the first place due to budget cuts.”

The toilets were closed in April after Copeland had its funding cut by central government. It must save around £3m by 2015 and has cut a host of services as a result. Of the cuts, the toilet closure has caused one of the biggest outcries.

Councillors confirmed at last night’s executive meeting that while they acknowledged the petition and strength of public opinion to re-open the toilet block, there would be no change to the policy and the facility in Whitehaven – and those in Cleator Moor and Egremont – would remain closed.

Keith Parker, Copeland’s head of neighbourhood services, said: “This budget reduction means that the council can no longer provide services our citizens have come to expect.

“The cost of direct provision of public conveniences was £41,000 per year to which can be added a further £7,200 in grant support to third parties.

“The toilets in Whitehaven absorbed the lion’s share of these costs, in terms of utilities, non-domestic rates amounting to approximately £18,000 alone.”

These high figures, the meeting heard, have so far put off potential new operators.

Mr Parker added that Copeland was not alone in closing public toilets due to budget cuts, adding that Glasgow, Manchester and Cornwall have done the same.

Miss Woodburn now plans to forward the petition Whitehaven Needs Public Toilets to MP Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government.

“It’s a disgrace that we have had do close these toilets,” she said, “but we have had no choice. I admire those behind the petition for wanting to make a difference, and it should be sent to Mr Pickles so he can see the impact of the decisions his government makes.”

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