‘Inadequate consultation’ was taken by South Hams District Council before introducing charging plans for public toilets.
The council’s executive in November approved introducing pay-on-entry at toilets in Dittisham, Hope Cove, Ivybridge and for Coronation Road, Steamer Quay and the Civic Hall in Totnes.
The running of other toilets in the region will be transferred to town or parish councils, car park charges will rise, while ten toilets are set to close unless anyone comes forward to take them on.
But concerns about a lack of adequate consultation around the proposal for the Steamer Quay toilets will see councillors asked to reconsider the proposal after Cllrs John Birch, John Green, Keith Baldry, Robert Vint and Julian Brazil called-in the decision for further scrutiny.
The call-in says that the executive, when they made their decision, failed to take into account the district council’s failure to adequately consult with Totnes Town Council and other stakeholders who would be affected by the decision.
A vote to defer any decision on Steamer Quay until February at the last executive meeting was lost.
Back in August, an email sent to Totnes’s town clerk confirmed the pay-on-entry scheme would be introduced at Coronation Road and the Civic Hall, but said: “The facilities at Steamer Quay are subject of further consideration and I will be in touch with you about these at a later date.”
Cllr Birch said that he subsequently informed businesses there were no plans to implement pay-on-entry at Steamer Quay.
But on November 16, the town clerk was told that pay-on-entry was proposed, and that an email confirmed this was not sent to town councillors until November 19 – just four days before the executive meeting – and the report outlining the proposals was not published five working days prior to the meeting.
The call-in says: “The council failed to provide an adequate period of consultation with the town council and local businesses affected by the decision. There was no attempt by the council to take any steps in consulting with the local businesses affected by the decision.”
The call-in also questions the clarity and desired outcomes of the closures given the executive were told there should be a consistent approach to all three toilets in Totnes, but in Kingsbridge, different approaches have been taken.
In response to the call-in, the council’s deputy monitoring officer said that it appears that due consultation was not provided as part of the decision-making process.
They added: “As a result of the email, Cllr Birch concluded and told local businesses and the town council there were no current plans for pay-on-entry at Steamer Quay and no information to think otherwise.
“This changed on November 19 when Cllr Birch became aware of the plans for pay-on-entry at Steamer Quay and effectively now had no more than four days to follow up and find out more about the plans.
“Strictly speaking due to the late report and the previous assurance of further discussions about Steamer Quay, the Members were to some extent mis-informed and / or were not provided with the requisite five working days’ notice to consider the officers report.
“It is not possible to say what Cllr Birch and the Totnes members would have done if they had been provided with the requisite Notice period, but the point here is that the correct process for consultation and publication was not followed.
“For these reasons my advice is that due consultation was not provided as part of the decision making process.”
The council’s overview and scrutiny panel will consider the call-in when they meet on Wednesday, December 12. They will then make a recommendation back to the executive who will make the final decision.
The current proposals would see pay-on-entry at toilets introduced in Dittisham, Hope Cove, Ivybridge and for Coronation Road, Steamer Quay and the Civic Hall in Totnes.
Toilets in Bigbury, Torcross and Strete Gate will remain free, but car parking charges are set to rise to cover the costs.
The toilets in Fore Street in Kingsbridge will remain free, but the town council will have to make an annual payment of £4,200 in lieu of pay-on-entry facilities being installed.
It was agreed by the executive that the toilets in Holbeton, Newton Ferrers, Staverton, Bittaford and Ugborough will close in September 2019, unless proposals to transfer the asset to the town or parish councils are agreed.
Proposal by parish councils to take on the running of toilets in Malborough, South Brent, Kingswear Lower Ferry and Thurelstone have been agreed in principle.
But the toilets in Manor Gardens in Dartmouth, the Higher Ferry in Kingswear, South Milton and Stoke Fleming are currently due to close in September 2019. Cliff House Gardens in Salcombe toilets have already been closed for good.
The council will withdraw its cleaning service from the Shipley Bridge toilets, but they will remain open, while toilets at East Prawle, the Dartmouth park-and-ride, Ermington, Loddiswell, Modbury, Noss Mayo, Challaborough and Beesands will remain free to use.
The future of the toilets along the Salcombe Estuary – at Batson Creek, North Sands, South Sands and Whitestrand in Salcombe, and the Ferry Steps and Mill Bay at East Portlemouth, and Bowcombe in Kingsbridge – will not be determined until the Salcombe Harbour Board makes a final recommendation to the executive at their February meeting.
Severe budget challenges for the district council mean it is no longer financially viable for them to continue paying to keep all 41 toilets in the district open.