Provision of public toilets is changing in Mid Devon
Mid Devon District Council is always keen to look at innovative ways to ensure its residents are getting value for money and the provision of public toilets is not immune to radical changes in the area.
Over the past few years, providing public toilets has proved increasingly costly while their use has dwindled. But with some clever thinking, officers at Mid Devon have turned the tide on costly loos.
With purse strings being pulled tighter and tighter, officers at the Council have looked at ways to use these toilet buildings as property assets and have come up with some clever solutions.
Andy Busby, Group Manager for Corporate Property and Commercial Assets at Mid Devon District Council, said:
“It’s unfortunate, but like all local authorities our budget is getting smaller and we must prioritise our funds and ensure the money we do have goes towards our statutory services. This means the provision of toilets has been affected but we are always looking at ways to ensure we can balance the needs of our communities with the money we have to spend. This is why we are working with other Councils and local businesses to ensure that money is spent wisely, and that our residents and visitors have the facilities they need.”
One of the biggest changes is the transformation of the Lowman Green toilets in Tiverton into a thriving noodle bar. These toilets used to cost the District Council in the region of £10,000 to maintain each year due to frequent vandalism and ongoing maintenance, but now the restaurant is an asset to the town, providing a new business and a sociable place to eat.
Trev and Mai Findley opened Pho Nam in Tiverton in 2016, having previously run a street food stall in North Devon. The couple live in Tiverton with their young son and with qualifications in professional cooking and a passion for Vietnamese food, where Mai grew up, the time seemed right to open their first venue.
“This is something we had dreamt of for a while and when we randomly saw work being done on the former toilet building we showed an interested to the Council.”
“We wanted something fairly small, with a good footfall and by working with the Council early on, we got to have some input to the interior. It also helped that everything was in one place and we had lots of support with the planning process and ensuring everything was compliant in terms of hygiene.”
Mai is the head chef and also runs masterclass cookery classes while Trev, who has a full time job elsewhere, is in charge of book keeping, ordering and marketing. Trev also built the interior including Pho Nam’s communal tables and benches, a feature in many Asian restaurants.
Their focus is on healthy food and they have an increasing vegan menu too. While the restaurant is a far cry from the former toilet block, the couple admit in the first year they did receive a few comments about their unusual venue.
“People don’t tend to remember the previous look now, but initially we had a few people saying they didn’t want to eat their food in the men’s toilets! But it was good really as one time a customer heard a feature on the Jeremy Vine show about toilets and rang them up. We were then on Radio 2 and that helped us!”
Elsewhere the District Council is working closely with Town and Parish Councils to ensure each town has a public toilet provision that is well maintained and fit for purpose.
In Crediton the disused toilets in St Lawrence Green have now been sold to a local business which plans to convert the building into a kiosk, which would include a toilet provision as a requirement of the planning permission. Also in Crediton, the Town Council is taking on the ownership of the Newcombes Meadow toilets in order to safeguard these as a facility for the town. Similarly, negotiations are also taking place for a transfer to Down St Mary and Sampford Peverell Parish Councils for their local public toilets.
Over in Cullompton, a sale is currently progressing regarding the development of the land where the Station Road toilets are currently situated. This project will result in a new toilet facility for the town, meeting the specification desired by Cullompton Town Council.
In Tiverton, the District and Town Councils are working together to ensure there are a number of toilet facilities in the town which are well maintained. While the District Council covers the ongoing costs of maintaining the structure of these buildings, the Town Council funds the day-to-day maintenance.
Tiverton Town Clerk, John Vanderwolf, said:
“Tiverton Town Council recognises the importance of providing toilet facilities for the town, which is why we are working with our colleagues at the district to ensure the town has a usable facility. We hope that people recognise these facilities are for the benefit of our communities, are provided by money from the public purse and should not be blighted.”
In Hemyock and Bampton, the Town and Parish Councils have taken over the control of the toilets there, ensuring a rural community, popular with walkers, retains its facility.
Andy Busby, added:
“While it’s no longer feasible to maintain so many toilets in the district, we are proud that as a Council we have ensured the majority of our communities will have access to a public toilet and that it will be maintained to a good standard.”