Camden can afford to waste money on ridiculous schemes yet they cannot afford toilets with Lincoln’s Inn Fields moving to pay as you go...is this taking the piss?
PUBLIC toilets are to be closed down across Camden in a cost-cutting drive order from the Town Hall.
Labour cabinet councillors were last night (Wednesday) facing warnings from community groups, rival politicians and even some of their own colleagues that they must rethink the idea – or face a public backlash.
A briefing document compiled by council environment chief Councillor Meric Apak – seen by the New Journal – maps out a timetable, after a public consultation survey, for the closure of the free toilets in:
l Pond Square, Highgate village
l West End Lane, West Hampstead
l South End Green, Hampstead.
Automated lavatories in Queen’s Crescent, Leather Lane, Russell Square and West End Lane are also facing the chop.
Meanwhile, the well-used toilets in Camden Town and Lincoln’s Inn Fields will move from being a free service to a facility only used by those who pay, similar to toilets at railway stations.
The proposed closures and fees, which the council says will save just over £250,000, are being lined up almost immediately after the Town Hall introduced a £100 fine system for people caught urinating in the street, nicknamed “wee fees”.
The council will try to mitigate public anger over the suggested closures by establishing a community toilet scheme which would see private businesses and shops paid to open their doors to the public.
Cllr Apak’s battleplan briefing includes a plan to “set out the financial context in which decisions are being taken” to the public, and the hope the council will be able to “engage” with businesses.
But Catherine Budgett-Meakin, a former chairwoman of the Highgate Society, said the proposal for Pond Square would be “disastrous”.
She added: “Let alone it being in the centre of the village and very well used, we also have a bus terminus and I don’t know what the bus drivers would do without it.
“There was a tremendous row the last time they tried to shut it, the whole village threw themselves behind the lavatories. We have people coming up from the cemetery and the Heath, where else are they going to go?”
In recent years, public conveniences which have closed in Camden have been converted into a range of uses including an underground cocktail bar, a music studio and a coffee shop.
Keith Moffitt, the former Lib Dem leader of Camden Council who lives in West Hampstead, where both the free toilet and the automated lavatory are under threat, said: “This is massively disappointing. It feels like something Labour have wanted to do since 2002. Again, it feels like they are hurting the most vulnerable people, the people who are not confident going into places and asking to use the toilet.”
Conservative finance spokesman Councillor Don Williams said: “Just closing them isn’t the answer. The council has seen how volunteers have taken up the running of libraries when they were threatened with closure, and it should be seeing that if they can’t run a service then they should be asking if anybody else can. It could be a private operator, or it could be funded by a community response.”
Asked whether a community collection would mean only affluent areas saving their toilets, Cllr Williams said: “We’d have to look at it as a collective, but just closing them down isn’t right.”
Even some Labour councillors have raised reservations. Holborn and Covent Garden councillor Julian Fulbrook said the changes would lead to a “severe excremental challenge” in his ward. He said people “down on their luck” would not be able to pay to use the Lincoln’s Inn Fields toilets, even if the fee was 20p.
“‘Pay to go’ does not seem to me to equate to the principle of ‘from each according to their means’ as the users there are often down on their luck and might not be able to afford very much ‘to spend a penny’,” said Cllr Fulbrook.
“Regularly there are several hundred men – and occasionally a few women – waiting for evangelical groups from many miles around who do a ‘soup run’ there most evenings. If there are no free loos available for the masses, then there will be open defecation again in Lincoln Inn Fields.”
Cllr Apak has warned his colleagues that the issue could flare up in the coming months and that he would work hard to “reassure residents as much as we can”. Cuts to the department budget were agreed last December.
Cllr Apak said he was aware that the availability of toilets was a sensitive issue, adding: “The message is that we are working with the community on this and if they have any alternative suggestions we will listen to them. We have to make these cuts – we’re trying to make the best if it. We’ve all been asked to do our bit and I’m doing mine.”
He said that he had helped organise a successful toilet scheme in Kentish Town when public conveniences there were closed.
“After some initial protests, it has worked well,” said Cllr Apak. “The businesses would be paid because of the extra upkeep but they would have to advertise that their toilets are available for public use. It’s a community plan.”
Asked whether £250,000 would be seen as a significant saving in the bid to plug Camden’s multi-million-pound funding black hole, he added: “It all adds up.”
South Lanarkshire Council's deputy leader, Jackie Burns, was spotted in the act in Hamilton town centre and was issued a £40 fixed penalty notice by police.
Cllr Burns has since apologised and said he had been "embarrassed" by his actions near the Hamilton Palace nightclub.
He said: "I was in a taxi rank at the Bottom Cross in Hamilton and needed the toilet. I went down a lane to relieve myself and was approached by police, who gave me a £40 fine which I have duly paid. I am embarrassed by the incident and have apologised."