More than 300 people, in just 24 hours, have signed a petition calling on Thanet council to extend the opening hours of public toilets for the isle’s beaches and bays.
The petition was launched by Thanet midwife Karen Feary who said she was dismayed to discover the Dumpton Gap toilets close at 3.35pm.
Karen, who lives in Dumpton and is a new beach hut holder at the site, said with the beach still busy going into the evening during the summer and the new kiosk tenant having a licence to open until 8pm the lack of open toilet facilities is concerning.
The 66-year-old said: “We have families with young children who may need to use the toilet more frequently or for those who have medical conditions that require regular access to facilities.
“We have more than 30 beach huts here and the new kiosk operator said there were people still on the beach at 9pm at the weekend but the toilets close at around 3.30pm and there are no other facilities nearby.
“I think 6pm would be a more reasonable time to close and that is why I decided to start the petition.”
Karen, who is one of the numerous dog walkers to use the beach, says she went to the council website to look at the opening times and found other toilets, such as Stone Bay and Joss Bay also close in the afternoon.
She said: “I decided it needed to be highlighted. At Dumpton Gap the old café owner had a key to the toilets but said Thanet council changed the lock when they found out.
“I also emailed the council and the (staff member) who replied said he was trying to sort it so the toilets could be open for another hour or 90 minutes. I have also emailed the new councillor (Roopa Farooki).
“On Thanet Huts on facebook there are a lot of comments about toilet issues such as not being open or not being cleaned.”
The nan-of-two launched her petition yesterday. On the petition page she says: “By keeping the (toilets) open until later in the evening, we can ensure that everyone has access to clean and safe facilities when they need them most.
“According to a survey conducted by VisitEngland in 2019, over half of all visitors (54%) said that public toilets were an important factor when choosing where to visit. This highlights just how crucial it is for local councils like Thanet District Council to provide adequate toilet facilities for residents and tourists alike.
“We urge Thanet district council to take action and extend the opening hours of beach toilets so that everyone can enjoy our beautiful coastline without worrying about where they will find a toilet.”
Ruth Bailey, who is part of the Broadstairs Visitor Information team and a former councillor, said the consequences of closing public loos “are only too obvious.”
She said: “The toilets have been closing earlier year on year, but this year they are scheduled to close from mid-afternoon which is quite ridiculous in the middle of a hot summer with light evenings.
“Beach concessions remain open until around 6pm, surely the toilets should remain open until at least then? Where are people enjoying summer afternoons on the beach supposed to go? The consequences are only too obvious.
“I know toilets are not a statutory responsibility of the council, I know that money is tight and recruitment of staff is difficult but surely, in a seaside destination, we should be able to do better.
“According to figures from 2022 the smallest percentage of the budget, 2%, was spent on toilet provision. Is there some sort of creative way that extra funding could be found?
“Over the past 5-6 years that I know of, there have been several toilet surveys, a working party, discussions with town councils and a written strategy. Nothing, however, has been published or progressed. We urgently need some sort of resolution of this issue.”
Deputy council leader Helen Whitehead posted to a discussion thread on social media to say a toilets review is being carried out and is due to come to Cabinet members shortly.
A Thanet council spokesperson said: ” Our public toilets are now open according to our summer opening times, which can be found on our website.
“Opening and closing times are worked out to allow our operatives to visit each location in turn. Facilities in the areas with the highest number of visitors are open for the longest periods.
“Staff work in teams, to protect them from anti-social behaviour which can occur in certain locations. There are also cost implications for keeping the toilets open for longer hours and a higher risk of vandalism which can lead to temporary closures and costly repairs.
“Toilets may be closed up to 15 minutes prior to the publicised closing time to enable thorough cleaning to be completed at each location.”
The toilet review chain of events
In 2019 a review into the future of the isle’s public toilets was announced by TDC as part of a bid to save £175,000 in its 2019-20 budget. A community loo deal with local businesses was one idea suggested although no further action was made public.
A review was then agreed in November 2020 when it was reported by TDC that a total of 28 public toilets were open to the public over the summer season with 13 on or near to Thanet beaches. The review and recommendations were due to be reported back to Cabinet members in March 2021 although this did not take place.
The council’s 2020/21 budget made a proposal to invest in a public toilet refurbishment programme, reversing the plan to make £175,000 in savings. Some of this maintenance got underway last year.
A public toilet strategy was earmarked to be discussed at the start of this year and was then scheduled to take place after the May elections.
Councils are not required by law to provide loos and continuing cuts to local authority funding have resulted in public toilets plunging by more than 600 across the country since 2010.