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Councillors defeat 2,000-strong petition to reopen town centre toilets

But they have agreed to look at setting up a 'community toilet scheme'

Campaigners Kath Gregson and Cheryl Duffy presenting the Peel Street toilets petition to Hyndburn Mayor Peer Britcliffe at a full council meeting

Campaigners have been defeated in their bid to fully reopen town centre toilets - despite more than 2,000 people and businesses demanding their return.

A petition backed by the Observer urging leaders to reinstate the Peel Street toilets in Accrington forced a debate at Hyndburn full council’s meeting on Thursday, September 21.

But councillors overwhelmingly voted against reopening the toilets, citing cost implications, anti-social behaviour fears and the alternative toilet facilities available to shoppers.

They instead voted to refer the issue to the cabinet member to look at the possibility of setting up a ‘community toilet scheme’ involving town centre businesses.

Petition co-organiser Cheryl Duffy, who runs Acorns of Lancashire cleaners on Whalley Road, had urged the council to ‘act now to reinstate these much needed facilities’.

Speaking at the council meeting, she said: “Over 1,200 signatures have already been handed in, and I have over another 800 here to present.

“Hyndburn Borough Council should be acting corporately and socially responsible, and do what is ethically and morally correct and listen to the electorate.

“Also, in the new Town Square, when some events are scheduled, they will have a legal responsibility to provide toilet facilities.

“I was asked ‘What are they going to do, put unsightly portacabins on the new town square for events?’ This would create an eyesore and be a false economy.

“It is almost like buying a brand new Ferrari and taking it to a £5 car wash.

“These petitions also have the backing of the Accrington Observer who are acting on behalf of their customers - maybe a lesson in there somewhere for the Hyndburn council.

“It is time to leave Victorian values in the past. Because of the closure we now have reports of people, including children, urinating in the streets and against council buildings, so you should provide your electorate with their basic needs.”

Cheryl argued that anti-social behaviour ‘cannot be the underlying issue for closure’ because the facilities are still open on Sunday, and claimed it could be reduced with the installation of a £400 CCTV camera.

She also referred councillors to the local authority’s ‘strong balance sheet’ and savings of £759,000 in the 2016/17 financial year.

Conservative councillor Judith Addison supported the campaign and said the toilets are ‘very basic facilities we should be providing for our citizens’.

She said: “Not everybody can walk a distance, go upstairs in the Market or the Arndale or to the bus station and pay 20 pence.

“I know we have to make savings and prioritise but personally I think the provision of public toilets in the town centre is utmost.”

Coun Tony Dobson, Conservative group leader, said the petition ‘makes a very sensible point about the future development of Accrington town centre’.

He told the meeting: “This has obviously caught the imagination of the Accrington Observer which I think is very much in touch with the people of Hyndburn and the thoughts, concerns and wishes.

“I know the petitioner and the people behind it have got nothing but Accrington and Hyndburn’s interest in mind when they come to you as the controlling group.”

However, Labour councillor and paramedic Eamonn Higgins said the toilets had become a place for drug addicts to ‘get their fix’ and for people to carry out ‘lewd sexual acts’.

Peel Street toilets

Gareth Molineux, portfolio holder for resources, said it would cost a minimum of £16,000 to re-open the loos, which wasn’t feasible when the council has to save a further £4.1 million by 2021.

The Great Harwood councillor said he was ‘very sympathetic to the concerns of the business holders’ but said any spare funding should be used to open toilets ‘in an area that don’t currently have any within walking distance’.

He said: “We put in heavy investment into the Market Hall to try and encourage people to shop locally and buy produce and other goods from there.

“Next year we are looking at making additional savings of £1.7m. By 2021 this council won’t receive any government funding at all.

“The cost to reopen the toilets just in terms of staffing would be around £16,000. That’s not taking into account the hours that they work, pension and national insurance contributions that the council have to make. They have been closed a while so potentially there’s a capital investment needed there to bring them back up to a standard.

“I am sympathetic. In Great Harwood we have a town centre as well with local traders people and we only have facilities in the library and Mercer Hall.

“If we were going to open toilets in any area my personal opinion is that we should be putting them in an area that don’t currently have any within walking distance.”

Council leader Miles Parkinson said he was ‘incredulous’ at the statements made by the Conservative group and highlighted comments they made to the Observer in 2011 when they first closed the Peel Street toilets.

He told the meeting: “I take the two points the ladies are bringing seriously but you’re just trying to win votes with no strategy and no plan and that’s wrong.

“I do agree with you [the petitioners] but we have to save £4.1 million between now and 2021.”

Find the money to do the right thing

The Accrington Observer is calling on town centre bosses to reopen Peel Street toilets.

The people have spoken and it is time for the council to listen.

Around 1,500 signed a petition calling for the loos to be brought back into use from Monday to Saturday. Tellingly, at least 120 of these were local business owners.

We all know the challenges faced by Accrington town centre – the pages of this paper are full of stories about it every week. And we are also all aware of the difficulties local authorities face due to cutbacks – but a thriving town centre is crucial to the future of this borough.

The Observer welcomes the opening of the new bus station and the £2m investment in a new public town centre square.

But it is important that we do not lose sight of the basics.

If people are worried about finding a public convenience – especially the elderly, disabled, infirm and people with young children – they will stay away.

Given what’s at stake, surely the money needed to reopen these toilets through the week is a drop in the ocean?

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