CAMPAIGNERS against public toilet closures in north-west Sutherland have been given an unexpected glimmer of hope.
Highland Council this week announced public conveniences earmarked for closure on August 31 would now have a two-month stay of execution.
It said it had "listened to feedback" from communities across the Highlands and "decided to take more time to rationalise toilet provision in the Highland".
Talks are understood to be ongoing with a business person who is interested in taking over some of the loos, and also with managers of tourism route NC500.
Protesters have given a cautious welcome to the reprieve but vowed to keep up the pressure.
It was agreed at a council budget meeting in May to "review" public toilet provision – but a hit list of 29 loos, nine of which are in north-west Sutherland, was drawn up. It was claimed their closure would save around £338,000.
The authority has no statutory obligation to provide the service and suggested that communities could either take toilets over or that public facilities and businesses could open up their loos to members of the public.
But north-west Sutherland communities, led by Kinlochbervie Community Council, reacted with anger, launching petitions, holding public meetings and erecting protest banners and posters close to the affected toilets.
The authority posted an update on its website this week.
It states that NC500 and other groups had approached the council with "serious" proposals to retain toilets and it was therefore "prudent" to allow extra time to ensure a "sustainable network of toilets across the Highlands".
It also stated that the administration was looking at ways of creating a loan fund to help communities take over the management and maintenance of the public loos.
North, West and Central Sutherland councillor Linda Munro writes about the issue in her column for the northern Times this week (See page 9).
According to her, a "businessman from the central belt" is interested in upgrading some of the conveniences and charging for their uses.
She also writes that Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson and community services director William Gilfillan had met with NC500 representatives to discuss working together to keep toilets open.
A joint bid was to be made to the Scottish Government Tourism Infrastructure Fund to upgrade toilets along the route.
Kinlochbervie Community Councillor Margaret Meek, who has spearheaded the toilet protest said: "The two-month reprieve is very good news and gives hope for a good outcome eventually."
But campaigners are continuing to heap pressure on the authority.
A group from Kinlochbervie is campaigning in Inverness today and will visit local authority headquarters at Glenurquhart Road to hand over petitions.
And a public meeting is to be held in the port next Tuesday to discuss the issue. All three ward councillors are expected to be at the meeting along with council officials including area amenities manager Debbie Sutton
Scottish Labour MEP Catherine Stihler wrote to Highland Council after a holiday in Sutherland at Easter calling the closure decision "shortsighted" and urging that it be reversed
She said: "This is a welcome move by the council and I hope the closure plans will now be scrapped. Communities have made their strength of feeling known, and councillors must listen. I know there are huge cash pressures on local councils across Scotland, but cutting this vital public service is not the solution."
Resident Michael Otter has submitted a freedom of information request to the council in a bid to ascertain on whether the administration was authorised to close the conveniences.
He said that according to the minutes of the February budget meeting, officials were authorised to explore the possibilities of closure but to go no further than that.