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Highland Council called upon to make more investment in public toilets – against backdrop of slashed budget

By Andrew Dixon

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A map of existing public toilet and comfort scheme sites across the Highland Council area.
A map of existing public toilet and comfort scheme sites across the Highland Council area.

Highland councillors have expressed the difficulty in balancing public expectations against budgets.

Members received an update on the council’s visitor management plan, which includes a £60,000 investment in public toilets.

The Highland area now has 75 toilet blocks and improvements have been made at seven of these.

There are also 14 more 'comfort schemes' – where the council pays communities and businesses to provide public access to facilities.

Toilets are not a statutory requirement of local authorities, but the council came under fire when it closed a number of them and introduced charging for others amid budget cuts in 2018.

Councillors welcomed the committed funding but highlighted ongoing problems with maintenance.

Councillor Alex MacInnes said there were considerably fewer complaints from local communities and thanked the officers for the expanded service.

However, he suggested that the council now needed to undertake an audit to decide if there were enough toilets, and how they could best be managed.

Communities and place committee chairman Allan Henderson reminded members that toilets are not a statutory obligation of the council, but opposition leader Raymond Bremner highlighted ongoing issues with public expectations.

“It’s important we get the balance right across Highland and our tourism provision,” he said.

“When the tourists go home, the toilets are still a necessity for the public. No, they’re not statutory, but there is still an expectation from the public, so we have a challenge in managing that against our savings targets and the diversification of the service provision.”

Councillor Richard Gale said that maintenance routines needed to be addressed. Speaking about what he described as “flagship” toilets in Golspie, he said the plaster was peeling off the walls and the floors were thick with dirt.

The 50p payment meter in the ladies toilets worked, but the meter in the gents is broken, meaning women are paying while the gents toilets suffer from vandalism.

“We need to maintain what is an asset,” he said. “It’s not a statutory responsibility, but if an asset is not maintained it becomes a liability.”

Council official Carron McDiarmid highlighted the budget constraints.

“There’s no provision in the maintenance budget or in the capital budget for public conveniences and that line in the revenue budget was cut by 25 per cent,” she said.

Council staff are going to speak to all comfort scheme operators to find out how the scheme is working, and is also exploring options for the buildings left behind after many loos were closed down.

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