Wisbech Town Council considers taking over and re-opening Horsefair Shopping Centre loos
Public toilets at a Fenland town bus station could soon re-open if town councillors give the go-ahead to plans drawn up by their clerk and the council leader.
Wisbech Town Council clerk, Terry Jordan, has written to members asking for their views following negotiations with New River Retail, owners of the Horsefair Shopping Centre.
Toilets at the centre have been closed for sometime as a result of ongoing anti-social behaviour problems and the cost of repairs.
The discussion comes as a result of a suggestion to look into how the toilets could be reopened from town council leader Sam Hoy in response to people contacting her and the council asking for more public toilets.
She said: "I am not completely comfortable with funding a private company but New River Retail have made it clear they are never going to reopen the toilets, and so we have had to come up with another solution.
"This is the only way we will be able to have those toilets open, which is what people say they want, and will also help to ensure we retain our bus services, as some companies have threatened to withdraw because of a lack of facilities for their drivers."
In a letter to councillors today (Tuesday) Mr Jordan explained the situation and said people in Wisbech were "crying out" for more public toilets and as a result, with Coun Hoy's backing, had entered into "without prejudice" discussions with New River Retail with a view to the town council taking-on the management of the Horsefair loos.
The letter, which is asking members for their views on the proposition,explains the move would be initially for two years and would cost the council around £37,742 in the first year, dropping to £36,000 in the second year.
Mr Jordan said New River Retail have confirmed they have no intention of ever re-opening the toilets and so the only way for them to be available is for the town council to take them on.
He also explains that the Horsefair Centre's manager has warned that bus companies are considering withdrawing services from the adjoining bus station because of a lack of facilities for drivers to use.
Mr Jordan explains it would be necessary to have the toilets 'manned' when they were open to prevent anti-social behaviour and inappropriate use of them - it was a result of both that the toilets closed.
He said there is a strongly held view by New River Retail that opening the Horsefair toilets would make Wisbech a "significantly more attractive place to spend time and money, not only for local people but also for visitors/tourists".
He adds: "Such a move would be very positive in terms of PR both for the council and for the owners of the Horsefair Shopping Centre."
As a result New River Retail has offered to lease the toilets at a peppercorn rent to council, with Wisbech Town Council picking up the costs associated with running them such as water, soap and toilet rolls.
The authority would have to pay around £253 to have a water meter installed to separate the toilets' usage from the rest of the Horsefair. Similarly an electric meter would need to be installed at a cost of £1,488.
Mr Jordan estimates electricity will cost around £750 a year, soap, toilet rolls and cleaning materials will cost a further £500 a year.
Barriers would be in place and people using the toilets would have to pay 20p to access them, this Mr Jordan said would generate an income of around £6,200 a year.
Servicing and maintenance of the barriers will cost around £2,500 and other repairs around £1,000 a year.
Mr Jordan said to fund the first year the council could re-purpose the toilets improvement budget of £7,500 for 2021/22 and also £8,000 set aside for toilet cleaning in the event the council re-opened the disabled toilet in Exchange Square.
This he said would provide £15,500 total for the Horsefair toilets on top of the £6,200 income, meaning the council would have to use £16,000 from its reserves to meet the remaining cost and he pointed out the council had enough money to be able to do that.
Mr Jordan said it would be easier to set a budget in the second year because they would have a better idea of costs and they could set money aside rather than repurposing funds.
He also suggested consulting the public in the first year to see if they think the toilets should remain open and what options they would prefer in meeting the costs involved.
Opening the Horsefair toilets would mean the Exchange Square toilet remaining closed and Mr Jordan said if the council had to close the shopping centre loos for any reason it would result in negative publicity but he said opening them would help retain bus services, and encourage more people to visit the town.
If the majority of members support the idea then he will use his delegated powers to progress the matter.