A ROW broke out today over plans to introduce charges at public conveniences in the centre of Edinburgh.
The proposed 30p fee would be the first time the council has made people pay for spending a penny. And while it’s anticipated the plan would boost city coffers, traders have been quick to slam it in the belief paid for loos will hit trade.
With tourists, shoppers, pregnant women and children sure to be among the biggest users of loos at the moment, it is also the feared the “toilet tax” could be anything but convenient.
“If there is a charge for public conveniences, fewer people will use them,” warned Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Robert Aldridge.
Opposition politicians claim the charge will simply result in people shunning the toilets and using loos in shops, pubs and cafes instead – and could eventually lead to council-run conveniences being closed.
The city’s Labour-SNP administration, however, has said seven city-centre loos where the charge is being proposed will all be upgraded or rebuilt before it is brought in.
The proposed charge, due to be approved by councillors on Thursday, would also raise £214,800 a year, according to council calculations.
City environment convener Lesley Hinds said improved toilets would help efforts to give a boost to the centre of Edinburgh.
“We want to encourage people to come back into the city centre after the tram works have been completed,” she said.
“Many visitors also use these conveniences, and if we have good quality toilets that says something about or city.”
She said charging also brought an element of control over the toilets, and she claimed the 30p price compared well with other places. Network Rail charges 30p for its toilets at Waverley Station.
Cllr Hinds said the public consultation on the budget had found people were willing to accept charges at city centre toilets, but charges will not be introduced at the public loos in Portobello or Cramond, where there was little support for the move.
Cllr Hinds said a review of all 29 public toilets in the city would be carried out within the next few months to see how accessible they were for people with disabilities, what condition they were in, how well used they were and whether they were in the right place.
Two years ago, plans were floated to close half of the city’s public toilets because they were in such poor condition.
The proposed budget allocates up to £600,000 for rebuilding or refurbishing the seven toilets.
Cllr Aldridge believes Edinburgh needs “a proper strategy for public conveniences across the city”.
He said: “When we were in the administration we always said we should take the approach used in some other places, where businesses get paid a small amount by the local authority to open up their WCs for use by the general public.
“There wasn’t a huge enthusiasm from Edinburgh businesses on initial contact, but I think the idea could be developed further.”
Green finance spokesman Gavin Corbett said: “I am far from convinced about the case for charging for public toilets in the city centre. The public consultation on the budget says ‘there was very strong opposition to charging for toilet provision’. The danger is that people will divert to nearby cafes and shops, leading to a fall in use of the public facilities and an eventual justification for their closure.”
Josh Miller, chairman of the George Street Association, said: “It would be a shame if the city was not able to provide a free convenience for its citizens and visitors. Whether it would be good or bad for businesses would remain to be seen.”
Under the plans, three toilets would be refurbished – at Castle Terrace, Castlehill and at the West End in Princes St Gardens. The others – at the Tron, The Mound, Nicolson Square and the Ross Bandstand – would be rebuilt as semi-automatic toilets including provision for disabled people.
SPENDING A FEW PENNIES . .
MIDLOTHIAN Council is considering closing all five of its public conveniences in a bid to save £85,000 next year and £117,000 a year after that.
But the proposal has sparked a storm of protest and a petition arguing that “safe, clean, accessible, family friendly toilets” are vital for visitors and locals.
The SNP-led council insists the toilets will remain open until a full review of alternative locations is concluded.
In East Lothian, all 33 public toilets are free of charge at the moment.
West Lothian increased its charges from 10p to 20p in the budget for next year agreed last week.
Glasgow has some free public toilets in parks and some council buildings, but charges 20p for automated toilets. Glasgow City Council said the charge went towards operating costs and there was no surplus revenue.
Aberdeen has a 20p charge for its five automatic public conveniences.