‘Clos­ing loos in a tourist town is to­tal mad­ness’

Glamorgan Gazette - - News -

I HAVE an early mem­ory of stand­ing out­side Coney Beach fair­ground when a man ap­proached my mum with a char­ity box.

They chat­ted, she popped in some change and af­ter­wards I asked what that was all about.

“They’re col­lect­ing money for a swim­ming pool,” she said.

It was the late 1980s, when Porth­cawl had a fun pool in the car­a­van park full of slides and toad­stools to clam­ber up and two slimy rock pools on the seafront, but no pub­lic pool where us kids could learn how to swim.

The cam­paign had al­ready been go­ing for years, with res­i­dents at one point ap­par­ently in­vited to pay a shilling a week into the fund.

Not long af­ter the mil­len­nium, just short of £40,000 was sit­ting in the pot but it was de­cided to do­nate it to an­other cause when it be­came clear the am­bi­tion was never go­ing to be re­alised.

Then, in 2010, to as­ton­ish­ment, grand plans for a mar­itime cen­tre were un­veiled, com­plete with a pub­lic swim­ming pool.

Those plans went quiet too but, af­ter a long si­lence, they’ve now resur­faced with the ad­di­tions of a mi­cro-brew­ery and wine bar. But the pool has been down­graded to a train­ing fa­cil­ity.

But there’s been no big pub­lic out­cry or flurry of let­ters to the Gazette.

Partly be­cause, af­ter four decades of failed re­gen­er­a­tion schemes, it’s no real sur­prise.

And now there’s a big­ger cri­sis – the town’s pub­lic toi­lets are des­tined for clo­sure.

The Grade II-listed loos have served the high street since 1924, ac­cord­ing to its ma­sonry.

But, like ev­ery coun­cil cham­ber across Wales, tough, un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions are be­ing made. Who would want to be a coun­cil­lor right now?

It’s aus­ter­ity, cry the bor­ough coun­cil, who have passed the buck onto town coun­cil­lors by say­ing they have to take on the toi­lets or they shut.

The town coun­cil, al­ready in dis­cus­sions to take over the play­ground toi­lets, say they sim­ply haven’t been given enough no­tice, leav­ing Porth­cawl with the prospect of a line-up of Elvis im­per­son­ators re­liev­ing them­selves along the re­vamped Tar­mac beach.

It’s ab­so­lute mad­ness that a tourist des­ti­na­tion won’t of­fer such a ba­sic fa­cil­ity – and traders al­ready suf­fer­ing a de­cline in foot­fall are un­sur­pris­ingly fu­ri­ous.

It’s the fi­nal straw. Within 48 hours, thou­sands of lo­cals signed a pe­ti­tion and per­suaded TV crews to go along and film their protest.

The lo­cal authority says it needs to save £30m in three years “to pro­tect ser­vices for our most vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents”.

But it’s pre­cisely the most vul­ner­a­ble who will be af­fected by this. It’s not just the el­derly who can’t cross their legs to wait, but those with med­i­cal con­di­tions like IBS and Crohn’s dis­ease, those with mo­bil­ity is­sues, preg­nant women and chil­dren.

Then there are mo­bile work­ers like po­lice of­fi­cers and de­liv­ery driv­ers, car­ers and home­less peo­ple who rely on them.

It’s all very well ask­ing shops and busi­nesses to open their loos to the pub­lic, but can they fa­cil­i­tate a par­ent with a pram who needs to change a baby’s nappy?

And a lot of peo­ple just won’t feel com­fort­able ask­ing when they’re not a cus­tomer.

Clos­ing toi­lets dis­crim­i­nates and this has been known for some time. Six years ago the Welsh As­sem­bly held an in­quiry into the im­pli­ca­tions of the de­clin­ing num­ber of toi­lets.

The com­mit­tee, chaired by Mark Drake­ford, found a “strong” pub­lic health case for pro­vi­sion and rec­om­mended fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion of lo­cal authority pro­vi­sion.

They found in­ad­e­quate fa­cil­i­ties had a knock-on ef­fect on the NHS as peo­ple ef­fec­tively be­came pris­on­ers in their own homes and were more likely to be­come im­mo­bile, iso­lated, ill and de­pressed. It also led to a rise in street-foul­ing.

Prof Drake­ford wrote to the health min­is­ter at the time, Les­ley Grif­fiths, who thanked him for rais­ing the pro­file of an is­sue “that af­fects the health, qual­ity and dig­nity” of peo­ple’s lives.

The re­sult was in­clu­sion in the Pub­lic Health (Wales) Act 2017 which gives lo­cal au­thor­i­ties un­til next May to pub­lish a lo­cal toi­lets strat­egy, but it has come a lit­tle too late. More than 100 pub­lic toi­lets in Wales have closed in the last five years.

Brid­gend is eye­ing up a sav­ing of £100,000 by of­fload­ing the loos, com­bined with the clo­sure or in­tro­duc­tion of fees at up to five oth­ers in the bor­ough.

What makes it all the more bit­ter to swal­low for lo­cals is that this is a drop in the ocean com­pared to the £11.3m that has been com­mit­ted by Brid­gend coun­cil to the Cardiff Cap­i­tal Re­gion City Deal – a re­gional fund that Porth­cawl sits at the very fringe of.

Many peo­ple liv­ing in the town have been wait­ing most of their lives to see re­gen­er­a­tion and were once even promised a 400-berth ma­rina that would be the big­gest in the Bris­tol Chan­nel.

While a lot of places are fight­ing Tesco-isa­tion, ex­pec­ta­tions here are so low that a new su­per­mar­ket seems like a vic­tory.

Now, as projects ap­pear to fi­nally be in mo­tion to make the resort a more at­trac­tive place to live and visit, it’s such a shame that those who have to plan their jour­ney around toi­let fa­cil­i­ties very soon could be leav­ing Porth­cawl out of it.

Pro­test­ers gather out­side Porth­cawl’s pub­lic toi­lets which are threat­ened with clo­sure

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.