City of Lincoln Council leaders have approved controversial plans to close some public toilets in a bid to save £82,000 a year — despite concerns from local residents and businesses.
Members of the City of Lincoln’s executive committee said during a meeting on Thursday night that it was “not a decision we want to make,” but blamed the authority’s “dire” finances instead.
Members earlier in the night were told that, among other issues, and despite COVID support from government, the council would still face a £1.32 million funding gap in dealing with the pandemic effects.
Council leader Ric Metcalfe said: “I hope people don’t think that somehow the council doesn’t realise how important the toilets are, we are keeping most of our toilets open.”
He said the council had consulted “pretty extensively” on the plans, yet most resident feedback said that without facilities, people would be caught short, leading to unpleasant incidents.
Council officers claim the authority had “reviewed toilets on a number of occasions previously, and it has defended them”.
It’s only now, under severe financial pressure, that this report has to go forward,” said Steve Bird, Assistant Director for Communities and Street Scene.
Members were also reminded that local councils have no legal requirement to provide public toilets.
Councillors also lamented the loss of a number of toilet attendants as part of the plans and thanked them for their service over the years.
The authority will close the Victorian urinals at The Lawn, on Union Road and at Newport Arch, while facilities at Lucy Tower will open for special events only.
South Park will also remain closed except for events.
Westgate car park’s toilets will also be “mothballed” with access only to disabled people or via radar key, and during special events such as the Christmas Market, or Steampunk Festival.
The council said there will be suitable alternatives, including the bus station facilities, and those on Tentercroft Street, Castle Square, Hartsholme Country Park and Boultham.
Sincil Street’s ladies toilet will be replaced with a new “modern, unisex” facility within the plans to refurbish the Cornhill Market.
Plans also include adopting contactless payments at public toilets and further consultation on the radar key access system, which could be replaced with a locally-based scheme.
However, the plans have come under criticism from residents and local businesses who believe the move will put visitors off coming to the city, particularly in uphill Lincoln, and compound local issues.
In response to a city-wide consultation carried out by the city council, nearly 500 people said there were few suitable alternatives to those earmarked for closure.
A petition to save Westgate toilets, led by Bailgate business owner Fiona Purkiss, has been signed by more than 900 people since it launched nearly a week ago and was handed to the council ahead of the meeting.
Fiona has since held a one-woman protest outside the toilets in a bid to raise awareness.
She said previously: “We local residents need loos open every day. It’s a big visitor area here, they all need to go to the loo.
“It’s a moral obligation, the council is the only body that can provide public services such as loos and they need to reopen them immediately.”
Businesses elsewhere in the city have also launched their own petitions to stop people urinating and defecating in side alleyways, along with other antisocial behaviour — believed to be due to a lack of facilities — by gating up entrances.
Meanwhile Conservative opposition members have said they are also concerned by the plans, adding they were “not visitor friendly, tourist friendly or friendly for the people of Lincoln.”
Following the meeting on Thursday, Councillor Bob Bushell, Portfolio Holder for Remarkable Place, said: “It’s not a decision that we’ve made lightly, it’s not something that we want to do.
“It’s a position that we’ve been forced into by the financial position of the council.
“I understand it’s a genuine concern. And we’re concerned too, but we’re making the best of difficult circumstances.”
He promised the council would be improving signage for visitors to the city to direct people to the nearest alternatives.
In regards to people using local alleys for doing their business, he said: “People have to take personal responsibility.
“If I’m in town and I want to go to the loo, I find out where the loo is and I go to that; I don’t just go down an alleyway.
“There are toilets at the bus station, at the Central Market, at Tentercroft Street — they’re not that far away.
“A lot of these people seem to me are people who have come out of public houses, etc, why didn’t they use the facility in there rather than just doing it in the street?”