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Lurgan and Portadown pooh-pooh idea as council toilet scheme not flushed with success

Armagh or Banbridge may be looked at after only five businesses in Lurgan offer to open toilets to public in exchange for cash with none deemed ideal

The public toilet facilities (on the right) in Castle Lane, Lurgan. Credit: ABC Council

ABC Council could be forced to spend more pounds if they want to encourage businesses to allow people in to spend a penny!

A drive to find toilet facilities above and beyond those provided by the local authority has not exactly been flushed with success.

Only five responded and even then they were not all suitable.

So it would appear that it’s back to the drawing board to look at other ideas – or increase the amount offered to provide a more attractive carrot on the stick.

ABC Council officers have been keen to set up a Community Toilet Scheme, whereby businesses would be paid by the local authority to make their facilities available to the general public.

But the level of interest in the scheme is proving to be virtually non-existent to date.

At their February meeting, Environmental Services Committee members had asked council officers to engage with businesses in Lurgan and Portadown town centres, in order to gauge levels of interest in participating in the proposed scheme.

An online survey was conducted via the Citizen Space platform in April, with a total of 427 between Lurgan and Portadown notified of the survey (248 in Lurgan, 179 in Portadown).

It was also discussed at a Lurgan Working Group meeting and Portadown Chamber of Commerce.

In addition, town centre managers promoted the survey whilst out visiting local businesses in the preceding months.

Despite the large number of businesses contacted, and efforts made to publicise the scheme, the response to date has been extremely poor, as a report on the matter, circulated at the June meeting of Environmental Services Committee meeting, explained.

“We had a total of five returns for the survey from businesses willing to offer facilities, all from businesses in the Lurgan area in the following locations: 52 William Street; 30 High Street; 81 William Street; 23a Castle Lane; 7 High Street,” it said.

“One of the businesses has limited hours on Saturday/Sunday, and another two are not open at weekends.

“One business (a licenced premises) cannot allow under 18s on the premises unaccompanied by an adult.

“Businesses have advised that they find it hard enough to keep toilets clean after their own customers use them, and that they couldn’t keep up with the increased requirements if opened to the public.

“They feel there’s a lack of respect from the public when using their bathrooms, plus with the increase in costs such as soap, toilet roll, cleaning requirements.

“Even if they were to get the full payment of £800, costs would outweigh the payment.

“Many businesses felt this would bring antisocial behaviour through their doors.

“Four businesses mentioned the increase of drugs in the vicinity and wouldn’t feel safe policing the use of the toilets.”

Speaking at the committee meeting, DUP Alderman Stephen Moutray took note of the poor response to date: “The response in relation to the scoping survey, particularly in Lurgan, is probably disappointing.

“Where do we go from here in this? Do we leave this or do we try another way around this?”

Committee chair, DUP Alderman Margaret Tinsley agreed that the response had been disappointing.

Head of Climate, Sustainability and Parks, Barry Patience said he couldn’t really see a way forward in light of such poor response, adding: “The officers would agree it is very disappointing.

“We had sent out surveys, the officers on the ground – the town centre staff – got similar feedback about people’s concerns.

“In relation to where we go next, I don’t really know, because the point of this was that if we could get enough folk to agree in Portadown, then that might be able to release money to go and extend it further, but there was nobody in Portadown who wanted to do it, and the ones in Lurgan, it isn’t a great coverage, and I know members were concerned about that.

“So really I don’t know if there’s an awful lot more we can do now. The only suggestion that we could have is we could try it in Banbridge and Armagh.”

Alderman Moutray suggested offering more of a financial incentive to encourage businesses to participate in the scheme: “The proposed payment to businesses, is there flexibility around that, that it could be more of an incentive?

“And after all I’m sure we’re paying a considerable amount to keep the toilet facilities open – and I’m speaking about Lurgan particularly – in Castle Lane.

“Is there something more that can be done maybe, to incentivise, even at this stage?”

The senior council officer replied: “Certainly, the financial recompense was similar to that of Derry & Strabane District Council, and members thought that that was reasonable.

“Yes we could certainly put it up, because as you say if we didn’t have to provide toilets ourselves, that would be a considerable cost saving.

“Our officers have spoken to the town-centre people and it wasn’t a thing that people had brought up and said ‘If you were to offer us more money, we might be thinking about it’, but it certainly could be an option.

“We could either change locations, we could increase the money again, but it probably won’t take away those concerns that people have listed in the report.”

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