Highland councillors have expressed difficulty in balancing public expectations against budgets.
Members received an update on the council’s visitor management plan, which includes a £60,000 investment in public conveniences.
The Highland area now has 75 toilet blocks and has made improvements at seven of these.
There are also 14 more comfort schemes – where the council pays communities and businesses to provide public access to facilities – taking the total to 50.
Toilets are not a statutory service
Toilets are not a statutory requirement of local authorities but Highland Council came under fire when it closed a number of them and introduced charging for others amid budget cuts in 2018.
Members of the communities and place committee welcomed funding as part of the visitor management plan but highlighted ongoing problems with maintenance.
Councillor Alex MacInnes said there were considerably fewer complaints from local communities and thanked the officers for the expanded service.
However, he suggested that council now needed to undertake an audit to decide if there were enough toilets, and how they could best be managed.
Committee chairman Allan Henderson reminded members that toilets are not a statutory obligation of the council, but opposition leader Raymond Bremner highlighted ongoing issues with public expectations.
“It’s important we get the balance right across Highland and our tourism provision,” he said.
“When the tourists go home, the toilets are still a necessity for the public. No, they’re not statutory but there is still an expectation from the public so we have a challenge in managing that against our savings targets and the diversification of the service provision.”
He added: “Wick has a population of 7,000 and no public toilet at the moment except for the comfort scheme. People want the toilets back and I support them in that.”
Dirt and peeling plaster
Other members shared similar issues in their own area. Richard Gale said that maintenance routines needed to be addressed.
Speaking about what he described as “flagship” toilets in Golspie, he said the plaster was peeling off the walls and the floors were thick with dirt.
The 50p payment meter in the ladies toilets worked but the meter in the gents is broken, meaning women are paying while the gents toilets suffer from vandalism.
“We need to maintain what is an asset,” he said. “It’s not a statutory responsibility but if an asset is not maintained it becomes a liability.”
Biz Campbell told committee that desperate visitors were going to the toilet behind a shed near her garden, after repeated vandalism at the public toilets in Dornie near Eilean Donan Castle.
“The new wardens are the best thing to happen at Highland Council but I hope they’re not just there for one year,” she said.
Find the money
Carron McDiarmid, the executive in charge of communities and customer, highlighted the budget constrains council is facing.
“There’s no provision in the maintenance budget or in the capital budget for public conveniences and that line in the revenue budget was cut by 25%,” she said.
Mrs McDiarmid told committee the service is going to speak to all 50 comfort scheme operators to find out how the scheme is working, and is also exploring options for the buildings left behind after many loos were closed down.
However, budgets will only stretch so far, and chairman Mr Henderson reminded members that “going off and finding the money is our job”.