A community-wide demonstration, featuring banners, potties and an enormous pink loo, will take place outside Thanet council’s offices next week in protest at the Summer-long closure of public toilets on Margate seafront.
Campaigners are demanding repairs are carried out so the ‘Clock Tower’ toilets on Marine Drive are opened for the tourist season.
A spokesman said: “The Clock tower toilets in Margate are currently closed due to concerns about the structural condition of the building. A review into the extent of repair work that may be required is currently underway and if it is possible to provide alternative toilets in this area for the summer season.”
But campaigners say the work should have been carried out over the winter and the facilities are essential. They have questioned why £3million has been earmarked for refurbishment or relocation of Thanet council’s office instead of allocating money to public facilities.
Current ward councillor Iris Johnston met with Thanet council today (April 17) and was told the council is working with Southern Water over flooding on the floors.
She said: “A camera is needed to check out pipework. A condition survey founded a crack from floor to ceiling in the ladies so a detailed structural survey is needed. I asked if one side, maybe the men’s, could be opened but was told no. I continue to ask for Portaloos at the shelter and coaches could drop off there. Prices are being sought for them either there or by the existing loos. I think the officer knows the strength of feeling especially as this work could have been done during the quiet winter period. I asked last July! This won’t be resolved for Easter so very disappointing.”
Protest organiser Darryn de la Soul , the Cliftonville West candidate for the Lib Dems said: “It’s actual insanity in my view. Public toilets are the most basic provision for public health and comfort. Margate is just getting on the map and visitors will not return if they struggle to find a loo near the beach. It is not fair to expect small businesses to pick up the slack.
“Where there is a will there’s a way, and willingness to find solutions seems sorely lacking in our council.”
Petition and poll
A paper petition was raised last month by Labour candidates Rob Yates and Helen Whitehead and an online poll posted in February by Independent candidate Suzanne Brimm attracted more than 1,000 votes with 96% in favour of saving the toilets and ditching the office refurbishment spend.
The Birchington mum-of-two also asked for the results of the survey on the toilet and has been informed water iscoming in through the walls and ceiling. This has not only caused damage to tiles and the ceiling but also means the electrics cannot be switched on. The are also large cracks from floor to ceiling. Council officers also revealed structural surveys are to be carried out on all of Thanet’s public toilets.
The toilet-themed protest will take place at 9.30am outside the council offices in Margate on Thursday (April 25).
Campaigners say they will be asking councillors “why they voted for this terrible budget when our local services are falling apart.”
Anyone who wants to take part is urged to bring banners, potties, toilet seats, brushes (clean ones!) and a sense of humour.
The paper petition will be available to sign or there is an online petition – which TDC does not recognise – at https://www.change.org/p/jodie-stop-thanet-district-council-from-closing-our-toilets
View from businesses
The event is created by a cross-party group from Margate (Lib Dem, Green, Labour and Women’s Equality Parties) and Jodie from the Sun Deck, and supported by local businesses: GB Pizza, Fez, Two Halves, Barnacles, Peter’s Fish Factory and concerned residents.
Jodie Ellena-Lindley, from the Sun Deck said: “As a local business owner on the beachfront, we were so concerned that families were forced to use the beach to go to the toilet last year, we spent thousands on hiring two portaloos for our customers and beachgoers to use, despite having a toilet block 50 yards away.
“Apart from the Harbour Arm, the TS Eliot Toilets are the only disabled facilities on the main sands. Other beachfront business owners were also overwhelmed by visitors asking to use their facilities, which had detrimental impact on their day to day business.”
Shaun Smethers from The Two Halves said: “The toilets along Margate sea front are a pivotal facility supporting Margate tourism and regeneration. As a basic need it is essential for those visiting Margate and enjoying summer visits to have use of such amenities. Margate attracts thousands of visitors throughout the summer period aiding its renewed growth and prosperity, surely common sense must prevail, in a modern society the use of toilets are a basic and necessary requirement.”
Election candidates say
Trevor Roper from Thanet Green Party said: “It’s a basic human need to go to the toilet, it is therefore a basic requirement for the council to provide adequate facilities for both locals and tourists. So please can we have our toilets back!”
North Thanet Labour party added: “Labour ward councillor Iris Johnston spent several months in 2018 urging TDC to ensure lavatories were reopened and in good repair. It is really disappointing that the council hasn’t taken the opportunity to make everything ready for the 2019 season. Yet again traders and residents have to put up a fight.
“We have asked to see the structural report on the clock tower lavatories, and if they are both beyond repair we have requested to have Portaloos in place immediately. A meeting with the relevant officer is due to take place later this week.”
Women’s Equality Party candidate for Cliftonville East, Kanndiss Riley, added: “ It’s outrageous that the council could make such a huge oversight on financing and maintaining public facilities. Furthermore, a tourist location, such as Thanet, will struggle to survive if the council continues to fail to provide disabled people, families with children and babies and the elderly safe, clean and accessible toilets.”
Thanet Independent Councillors say: “We are coastal towns who rely on tourism so it is in nobody’s interest to have these facilities closed. We need to consider whether they be operated by TDC by town council/Trustees or even by private individuals who would likely make a small charge and be responsible for maintenance. We cannot allow the closure of a public need.
“We are not happy with the decision, but understand any safety concerns, although ask why was this not addressed in the winter? This must be addressed in the new council after the May elections.”
Margate Central Conservative Robin Haddon has criticised the closure of the facilities. He said: “The beachfront toilet situation is of great concern. It is not a party political issue but one that is down to the TDC officers and councillors that have been charged with dealing with this specific issue.
“It is beyond belief that those involved appear to have ‘overlooked’ this important amenity now that summer is upon us and the toilets threatened with closure due to leakages. It appears that TDC has kicked this required expenditure into the long grass hoping it would go away, especially as current ward councillors have not been able to find ways to get TDC to implement a solution.
“TDC needs to find the funding or a solution to post haste, even if this means drawing from an emergency/reserve pool in order to promptly repair and open these purposely built, strategically located toilets and changing areas. For health and safety measures, let alone for addressing a real need on the beachfront.
“Throwing money at portable loos is not a long term or ‘summer season’ solution – that’s all very well for one-off event and is not an attractive site for visitors and tourist and local residents alike, moreover, when the cost of such rental should be rather allocated to the structural issues of a purpose built toilet(s) already perfectly located.
“TDC should not expect a local business to pay the price of tourism when they cannot provide the most basic amenities required for our tourists… on the one hand, spending money to encourage tourists and businesses to Margate whilst on the other purporting not to be able to afford the amenities when the tourists and visitors arrive! Children need somewhere safe and clean to be changed and not unkempt facilities such as portable toilets that do not offer proper sanitary washing.
“I support any peaceful, democratic demonstration to draw attention to such important matters to the public at large; however, in this instance the officers and councillors on the committee responsible for these decisions need to be put to task, and I would leave no stone unturned to address this matter for Margate Central, given the opportunity to reach the committee in question and fight for my wards rights and respectability.”