By Betsy Everett
The public toilets in Askrigg village hall, which are open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, are under threat following the withdrawal of funding by Richmondshire District Council.
At an open meeting of the village’s temperance hall committee, residents heard that the funding, which in 2015-16 was £1,556.52, representing more than a quarter of the hall’s total income, had been axed.
The only positive news, said treasurer Martin Garside, was that the supply of toilet rolls donated by the council in anticipation of extra visitors in the village during the Tour de France, had still not been exhausted nearly three years later.
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Mr Garside said the annual payments had stopped in early autumn, and from March this year the district council’s contribution of £150 for hand-washing and drying facilities had also ceased.
“In this financial year we will be charged for that contract, too. We want to keep the toilets open as a public facility but the question is how do we fund them?” he asked.
One resident said extra costs should not fall on users of the hall. Charges made to the sports clubs, playgroup, handbell ringers, ladies’ choir and other users included use of the toilets but they should not be asked to pay more to cover public use.
“They should not be paying a premium to keep the toilets open to the public,” she said. Other residents agreed.
Resident Ruth Annison pointed out that local cafe owners who did not have washroom facilities of their own would suffer if the toilets had to close: by law there had to be access to public toilets within 100 yards.
Mr Garside said that because many of the costs of running the village hall also covered the toilets, such as cleaning, water rates, insurance and maintenance of the building, it was difficult to know the exact yearly figure, but it was thought to be about £2,500 a year.
Allen Kirkbride, chair of Askrigg and Low Abbotside parish council, said he was sure the council would want them to be kept open and available to the general public as well as the users of the hall itself.
“I will propose to the next meeting of the council that we use some of our funds for the maintenance and upkeep of the toilets, but we need to know exactly how much they cost to run,” he said. He also thought there might be a sustainability grant available from the district council and this should be investigated.
The meeting heard that under the terms of a 25-year lease which had expired two years ago, the district council had also paid the water rates. Although the committee had been given sixteen months’ grace following the expiry of the lease, water rates currently standing at £358, also now have to be paid.
A suggestion from Mr Kirkbride that a donation box should be placed in the toilets, along with an explanation of the costs and lack of funding, was accepted. The contract for maintaining hand-washers and dryers would be renewed.