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Toilet turmoil as Highland Council reveal results of loo review

Margaret Meek, co-founder of NC500 The Land Weeps
Margaret Meek, co-founder of NC500 The Land Weeps

Highland Council has revealed the results of its controversial public loo review, to mixed results from the winners and losers around the north.

There will be job losses, less money awarded to comfort schemes (from £300 per month to £100), higher charges at pay-to-pee (50p) facilities, the closure of a number of facilities, and others with uncertain futures as they’re left looking for non-council operators.

The introduction of 10 mobile cleaning squads to clean 40 of the council’s 94 facilities will see the eventual loss of 44 jobs.

Protesters (L-R) Margaret Meak and Heidi Majanen both of Kinlochbervie and Christina Perera of Strath Brora.

In February, a ‘rationalisation’ plan indicated that 29 council-run toilets would be closed to save money, prompting a vigorous campaign by locals to save them.

The Highland-wide review is a result of pressure from lobby groups like Highland Save Our Loos from North-West Sutherland, where nine out of the 29 toilets were due for closure.

The group handed the council a petition with more than 14,000 signatures and met officials to explain their fears for tourism and vulnerable groups if their toilets were closed.

Their efforts have been partially rewarded with five out of the Sutherland nine to be retained year-round, operated and run by the council- Achmelvich, Rhiconich, Scourie and Smoo Cave and Tarbet.

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Margaret Meek of Kinlochbervie spearheaded the petition.

She said: “We are absolutely delighted that the council has recognised their importance, particularly in terms of supporting tourism.”

Also reprieved from closure to be operated and run by the council are Lairg, Station Brae Fort William, West Beach Nairn, Tarbet and Dingwall.

The toilets at Avoch, Elgol, Helmsdale, Rosemarkie and Portmahomack were also originally earmarked for closure, but now have a less certain future.

The council says it sees the potential for these as ‘asset transfers’, usually to community groups. Portmahomack has already put arrangements in place for their toilets to be operated by the community in winter. The seasonal facilities at Fortrose will also be looked at for asset transfer, as will the facilities at North Kessock.

Partial victory in sight for Sutherland toilet campaigners

Fortrose & Rosemarkie community council chairman Tom Heath said his community is anxious to save their toilets, but a particular issue with asset transfer that Highland Council specifically forbids community councils from direct control of toilets.

He said: “We’re working hard with other partners and Highland Council to come up with a solution.”

Last of the original 29 earmarked for closure are Kinlochewe, Kylesku, Harbour Road Nairn, Talmine and Castle Wynd Inverness. The council is going to put them up for sale- with keeping them as loos a condition of sale.

Definite closures include Burnfield, Grantown; Mealmarket Close Inverness and Kinlochbervie.

In Kinlochbervie, the council proposes the fish market toilets to take up the slack.

Mrs Meek said while they offer possibilities, they are heavily used by fishermen and harbour workers, and are not open all the time.

She said: “They also require access through an industrial area where there is forklift storage. They require upgrading. We hope the council keeps the toilets open until there is adequate provision in the fish market.”

A question mark hangs over the seasonal facilities at Caithness, where local councillors will be called upon to discuss the situation.

Council officers reckon all these measures will save £491,000.

Feeling of relief 

Durness community council chairman Don Campbell said his community were very relieved that Smoo Cave toilets are to be retained.

He said: “We have 77,000 visitors a year and while there may be comfort schemes in the area, Smoo Cave has disabled facilities and will be open 24/7, unlike schemes which use hotels- often you can’t use them overnight, or they end up closed in winter for a few weeks for maintenance, which we understand.

“Retaining Smoo will take a load off other facilities which we’re all pleased about.”

Maps of 191 publicly accessible toilets in Highland were also unveiled in the report.

They show that on the whole a public loo is but 15 minutes away – but if you you’re in deepest rural areas, where they could be 45 mins away, and on some parts of the west coast and Skye where they could be 30 mins away.

Margaret Meek said her community finds the maps ‘more than a little misleading.’

She said: “I’ve been noting times in September when the roads are reasonably quiet. Rhiconich to Durness was 26 minutes. In summer it can be over 45 minutes, with lots of campervans on a single track road.

“Kylesku needs to be saved too. While it’s only 11 minutes away from Scourie, it’s 35 minutes from Ullapool.”

Loo list – Council-run toilets staying open

Achmelvich, Rhiconich, Scourie, Smoo Cave, Tarbet, Lairg, Station Brae (Fort William), West Beach (Nairn), Dingwall.