We cannot afford to have toilets dumped on us, warn villagers

DOWN THE PAN: Peter Turner, chairman of Long Melford Parish Council, has claimed the closure of public toilets could affect tourism in the village.
DOWN THE PAN: Peter Turner, chairman of Long Melford Parish Council, has claimed the closure of public toilets could affect tourism in the village.

The impending closure of public toilets in Long Melford will have a negative impact on tourist trade in the village, according the parish council.

Babergh District Council is withdrawing funding for toilets on the village green and in Cordell Road, with the toilets set to close on April 1.

It is currently in negotiations with Long Melford Parish Council, with Babergh seeking to offload the facilities in amove that has been met with concern by villagers.

Peter Turner, chairman of Long Melford Parish Council, said: “Going to the loo is a pretty basic ingredient for a day out. It does seem somewhat short-sighted.

“You only have to look around to see that Long Melford receives a considerable number of visitors, which is a considerable part of the economy, particularly with Melford Hall and Kentwell Hall.”

Mr Turner said the toilets were the latest of several extra burdens handed to the parish council.

“It is just one more service that is being dumped on us,” he said. “We have already taken on the country park from Suffolk County Council, which will prove to be much more expensive than first anticipated as it had been neglected for years so we have to bring it up to a better standard.

“We have also been asked to help with the libraries and we have completed a survey on more than 100 streetlights in the village and I think we are facing a challenge there.”

Gifford Lewis, parish clerk, said: “This is absolutely because of the budget cuts.

“The Cordell Road toilets are very well used throughout the whole year. I could see the justification for those on the green closing as they are not as well used. Babergh cannot just decide to pull out as it leases the land from us, so there will be negotiations to do it.”

Mr Lewis explained the toilets were subject to around £2,300 per year in business rates, which made up a large proportion of the costs of maintaining the toilets.

“We have a real challenge as to how we are going to take them on,” he said.

Richard Kemp, Babergh district councillor for Long Melford, said financial pressures on the parish council meant it was difficult to take on additional services.

“We have to ask ourselves whether we can afford it. You can’t keep bumping up council tax in order to meet things that other bodies don’t want to finance,” he said.

“We appreciate Babergh’s problems but the simple fact is we put the village’s share of tax up 30 per cent last year, more than 23 per cent this year, and there is a limit to what you can keep imposing on residents.”

Roy Whitworth, chairman of Lavenham Parish Council, said it had negotiated with Babergh to run the public toilets in the car park close to The Cock Inn from April 1.

The parish council took over management of the village’s other toilets in the Prentice Street car park a year ago, following extensive renovations

“We have been able to run it for, I would estimate, half the cost,” said Mr Whitworth.

“We are able to make sure money isn’t wasted. It is much easier for us to make sure the water isn’t left on constantly than it is for them coming over from Hadleigh.”

A Babergh District Council spokeswoman said: “In a bid to make savings, we began discussions with parish councils, community groups and local businesses in February, 2011, to explore the possibility of transferring the management of public toilets in their areas over to them.”

She said the council identified toilet blocks in Long Melford, Lavenham, Flatford, Pin Mill, Shotley and East Bergholt as candidates, some of which have now been handed over. “Talks have been taking place with Long Melford Parish Council since March, 2012, and we will be meeting again later this week in the hope of finalising arrangements for it to take over the running the facilities in their area,” said the spokeswoman. “Although we do not have a duty to provide and manage public toilets, we recognise this is an important community facility.

“Budget cuts are increasingly forcing us to make difficult decisions in order to balance the books.”