Ministers urged to splash cash to save Borders tourists paying to spend a penny

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

Council chiefs are being urged to persuade the Scottish Government to splash the cash to stop tourists either having to pay to spend a penny here or getting caught short.

Jedburgh councillor Jim Brown fears plans being drawn up to privatise the region’s public conveniences will lead to many of them being shut down and he is lobbying Scottish Borders Council to apply for tourism grants to spend on their upkeep.

Jedburgh's tourist information centre toilets.

Jedburgh's tourist information centre toilets.

Mr Brown has tabled a motion to this Thursday’s full council meeting at the authority’s Newtown headquarters calling for an application to be made for money from the Scottish Government’s rural tourism infrastructure fund.

Run by VisitScotland, the fund provides grants for local authorities looking to improve infrastructure and amenities in rural tourist areas.

Mr Brown says he is fed up of seeing foreign tourists unable to find the correct change for council WCs resorting to relieving themselves in public and fears that such episodes could put them off returning.

He said: “Tourism is the very lifeblood of my home town of Jedburgh, and our two remaining loos are strategically placed with this in mind.

“It pains me to watch foreign coach parties rummaging for change or going behind the loos. What image does this leave of our country?

“We all know by now that the provision of toilet facilities is not a statutory requirement for Scottish Borders Council and the move to a trial privatisation scheme sounds very much like a precursor to closure to me.

“My motion is aimed at offering a possible source of government funding to improve or save certain facilities that are situated on tourism-oriented sites.

“Due to a significant increase in tourism throughout Scotland, including the Borders, the Scottish Government has introduced its rural tourism infrastructure fund aimed at helping upgrade and improve tourist infrastructure such as toilets.

“This fund is administered by VisitScotland, with £6m in the coffers, and is now due to reopen for the second tranche of funding, with assessment being completed in March 2019.

“In the first tranche, the Highlands were successful due to the scarcity of loos and safe parking on the North Coast 500 route.

“The islands of Orkney and Skye are also being helped with their infrastructure problems.

“It’s time to stop the cross-party squabbling and for all Borders councillors to be allowed a say in how we can help improve public services.

“I do hope my administration colleagues support my motion.”

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

Council officers had hoped that introducing a 30p charge at 27 public toilets would generate an annual income of £280,000, but over the course of a one-year pilot scheme, they made just £89,000, it was reported.

Among the 27 council-owned toilets now charging fees are those at Jedburgh’s Lothian Park and tourist information centre; High Street, the transport interchange and Bank Street Gardens in Galashiels; School Brae, Eastgate and Kingsmeadows in Peebles; Howegate, the Common Haugh and Volunteer Park in Hawick; and Kelso’s Shedden Park and Woodmarket.

The others are at Eyemouth’s harbour and Bantry car park, Coldstream Courthouse, St Abbs Harbour, Main Street in St Boswells, Earlston bus station, the Avenue in Lauder, Selkirk Market Place, Hall Street in Innerleithen, St Mary’s Loch in the Yarrow Valley, Coldingham Sands, Melrose’s Abbey Place, Newcastleton’s Langholm Street and Briery Baulk in Duns.

The 14 still free are in Burnmouth, Broughton, Chirnside, Cockburnspath, Denholm, Greenlaw, Kelso’s Croft Park, Morebattle, Melrose’s Greenyards, Newtown, Scott’s Place in Selkirk, Stow, West Linton and Yetholm.

The most profitable of the toilets charging fees are those at Galashiels transport interchange, generating £8,966 in 41 weeks, followed by Jedburgh tourist information centre’s with £7,807 and Kelso’s Woodmarket loos with £6,919, then Jedburgh’s Lothian Park WCs with £4,604.