A complaint about men urinating in front of passers-by has been made following the introduction of 20p toilet charges across Richmondshire.
The report of the incident in Hawes comes as Richmondshire District Council is urged to spend money from its reserves on increasing public toilet cleaning and removing unpopular 20p charges for using its loos, which were introduced earlier this year.
Three men were reported to have urinated in front of passers-by after finding the coin mechanism jammed on the Penny Garth toilets in the town centre.
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Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council chairman John Blackie said the incident highlighted the problems caused by the new charges.
Cllr Blackie is also unhappy at changes to the cleaning schedule of the Upper Dales public conveniences, which will mean Hawes toilets are cleaned once a day on just four days a week in winter.
In increasingly tetchy correspondence with district council corporate director Colin Dales, who is responsible for implementing the new charging and cleaning regime, Cllr Blackie points out that the authority has £4.1m in reserves, including around £2.7m in the service improvement reserve and the council taxpayers reserve.
He added that one clean a day in summer and four cleans a week in winter was a “totally inadequate level of cleaning a public toilet”.
He said: “There is clearly more than sufficient funding available to finance a public toilet cleaning regime fit for purpose that meets the needs of users and enhances the reputation of the local communities hosting the RDC public toilets, rather than tarnishes them with justified complaints about the unacceptable state in which they have found them.
“These complaints are likely to be circulated world wide on the web.”
Cllr Blackie has queried new public toilet usage figures from the council which are based on the income from the 20p charges.
These estimate that usage of the toilets across the district is less than 160,000 a year, when previous figures from sensors in conveniences put usage at almost one million.
Cllr Blackie has accused the authority of “bending the facts to suit the argument” – a claim rejected by the authority.
In a sign that the relationship between the parish and district council is becoming increasingly strained over the issue of public loos, the parish authority has told the district council it will be erecting notices near the toilets in its town advising users they are not responsible for their upkeep – and the district council has said it would remove the signs.
Furthermore, the parish council is asking users to report any complaints to the town’s Upper Dales Community Office so it can monitor issues itself because it claims reports direct to the district authority may be “lost in the basement at Swale House”.
In response, Mr Dales said Cllr Blackie was quite within his rights to voice concerns about changes to the way the authority ran public toilets.
He said the management of the public toilets did not fall within the remit of the parish council and they were “quite right to distance themselves from this issue”.
He added: “The district council continues to welcome feedback, both positive and negative, from toilet users and the parish council have been advised of this.
“Anyone urinating in a public place is breaking the law and should be reported to the police.
“There can be no justification for such offensive and anti- social behaviour.”
Mr Dales said actual usage of the toilets had not changed.
He added that what had changed was the method of estimating such usage but he said “there had been no attempt to suppress figures in this respect”.
“The historical method of estimating usage were motion sensors/counters in each toilet which did have their faults in terms of accuracy.
“The pilot to test the concept of charging changed the counting method to the amount of 20p’s collected, ie each 20p represented one customer.
“When these figures were applied to other toilets they suggested much lower usage than had been previously estimated via the sensor counters.
“It is likely that the lower 20p method of recording is more accurate even if it does suggest lower usage.”
Mr Dales said the council remained committed to keeping the public toilets open and the new charging regime would ensure that this was achieved by reducing the financial burden the public toilets represent.