Borders council to look into applying for cash for public toilets

Councillor Jim Brown at the Lothian Park toilets in Jedburgh.
Councillor Jim Brown at the Lothian Park toilets in Jedburgh.

Council officials have agreed to look into applying for a Scottish Government tourism grant to save visitors to the region wanting to spend a penny having to splash out 30 times that much.

At last Thursday’s full meeting of Scottish Borders Council, Jedburgh councillor Jim Brown put forward a motion calling for the authority to apply for money from Holyrood’s rural tourism infrastructure fund to save visitors lacking the right change getting caught short.

He said: “The Scottish Government has an allocated budget to fund projects in high visitor areas to improve facilities for tourists.  

“It is proposed that Scottish Borders Council take advantage of these funding opportunities and submit an application with the goal of improving and expanding public toilet provision in key tourist areas across the Borders.

“We know that the provision of public toilets is not a statutory requirement for this authority and that this makes the service very tempting for cuts and even for the removal of this service, but for areas such as my home town of Jedburgh, and for many other places throughout the Borders, the provision of good, clean loos is vital for drawing tourists.

“The current charging system of 30p has caused major problems, especially in Lothian Park in Jedburgh, where it has become a regular occurence to see gents going behind the building and ladies being forced to squat.”

In response to a nationwide increase in tourism, the Scottish Government has introduced a £6m rural tourism infrastructure fund administered by VisitScotland.

It is now set to reopen for a second round of funding, with assessment being completed in March 2019.

Speaking in support of Mr Brown’s motion, East Berwickshire councillor Helen Laing said: “At the last meeting of the council in June, we heard from officers about planned changes to public toilet provision. Some of us expressed reservations about those proposals.

“Here in the Scottish Borders, there is evidence, both statistically and anecdotally, that we are experiencing our share of the tourism boom.

“Tourism has been boosted by the Borders Railway, by film companies using our beautiful locations and by concerted efforts by the Scottish Borders Tourism Partnership.

“This is great news, but with this increased interest in the Borders comes an increase in pressure on facilities and infrastructure.

“I get complaints about public toilet provision in my ward, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

“Such deficiencies in what we offer will most certainly put people off, no matter how special the experience is here.

“This motion proposes that Scottish Borders Council takes advantage of the Scottish Government’s rural tourism infrastructure fund to develop our public toilet provision, and maybe even a car park or two in various areas.”

Responding on behalf of the administration, Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison said: “I’ve had a look at this and investigated it. It is £6m but over two years, which is not a huge sum of money, and it is competitive, but saying that, I would put forward a counter-motion which would not commit us to anything but which will ask officers to investigate the possibility of submitting an application going forward.

“The problem we have with our toilet provision is the support that is needed, but this motion talks about expanding provision, whereas what we want is to improve it.”

Mr Brown and Ms Laing accepted the administration’s alterations to the motion, and it was passed.

Council officers will now investigate the possibility of submitting an application to the fund with the intention of improving public toilet and other tourism infrastructure facilities.

In June, councillors agreed to look into privatising the authority’s public toilet network following a report showing that the region’s public loos are failing to make enough money to cover their operating costs.

Council officers had hoped that introducing a 30p charge at 27 public toilets would generate income of £280,000 a year, but the controversial fee only raised £89,000 in its first year.