There will be no “stay of execution” for the public toilets in Hall Leys Park, Matlock, despite passionate objections from nearly a dozen district councillors.
Derbyshire Dales district councillors gathered on Thursday evening to have the final say on the public toilets a stone’s throw away – next to a children’s play park.
The council had proposed in April to permanently close the public toilets at the site – along with its eventual demolition.
Hall Leys Park is among ten public toilet sites due to be closed, out of the 26 owned by the council – due to annual maintenance costs of £467,000.
Since then, one portable toilet has been temporarily set up at the site – which councillors say has seen dozens of children in queues longer than at the local music festival Y Not.
Councillors say that many children who could not wait in the queue have had to “go” freely in the park grounds.
A motion was presented by a rainbow coalition of 11 district councillors; five from Labour; three Lib Dems; one independent, one “other” and one Conservative to pause the demolition plans until there is a replacement block of toilets in place or until other options are assessed.
The motion, put forward by Lib Dem councillor Sue Burfoot, stated: “We believe that this facility is much valued and considered essential by parents and grandparents, especially given the popular water play feature. The play area is some distance from the main toilets on Causeway Lane.
“We urge the council to reconsider its decision.”
This was defeated by a vote of 20 against, 11 for and one abstention.
A member of the public, Robin Greenwood, was the first to speak on the issue, and said that he had gained 400 signatures opposing the demolition in just one hour.
He said: “I believe that I speak for the people and visitors of Matlock when I speak here tonight and what I would like to see are that these toilets are kept open.
“Matlock Town Council can raise the [council tax] precept to save them and keep them open.
“The toilets were built through public subscription and it is clearly something the public will pay for.”
Councillor Sue Burfoot said: “The strength of feeling from residents and visitors is very strong.
“The play area is teeming with children, especially in this weather, and I have heard of queues of children needing the toilet and the children are having to go to the toilet behind the portable loos because they cannot wait.
“That’s why we are asking for a stay of execution until every other avenue is explored and with no time limits.
“At the end of the day, Matlock needs a toilet and the other facilities are too far for kids to be able to get to the loo.”
A plan discussed by the district council last week involved turning the current ranger station close to the park into a combined toilet and food and drink booth – and the rangers moved to a building known as the “ammo store”, which itself would need £20,000 in renovations.
Matlock Town Council have registered interest in this idea, and Conservative council leader Lewis Rose urged them to “grasp the nettle and just get on with it”.
He said: “Nothing has changed here since April to where I feel we should change our decision, no facts have changed.
“Everybody out there knows that we have financial difficulties and the harsh reality of the decisions we have to make.”
Labour councillor Steve Flitter, who is also a Matlock town councillor, said that the proposed ranger station plans were not suitable and that the consultation on the closure of the public toilets had not been carried out effectively.
He said: “The ranger station is not an ideal site, close to the raging River Derwent and with children having to cross the miniature railway line.
“Children are far more important than looking after the rest of the park.
“The public toilets were built there because the people of Matlock wanted it, please think about the children on the park, please think about the parents on the park.”
Councillor Vicky Massey-Bloodworth was the only Conservative to support the plan to defer the demolition.
She said: “I understand that the toilets are at the end of their life but they should stay open until we have something else open to use.
“I have a daughter and she would not make it to the ranger station [from the park] and one portable toilet is not enough.”
Independent councillor Colin Swindell said: “It is a basic bodily function to use a toilet and it should not be taken away.
“I am a new dad, my son is in nappies but it is absolutely packed to queue for the toilets, I’ve seen shorter queues at Y Not.
“A stay of execution should stay in place, we need to explore all of our options.”
Conservative councillor David Chapman caused a flurry of strong rebuttals by saying: “Are we really raising a generation of people who can’t go anywhere where they aren’t 10 yards from a toilet?
“Can’t they go for a walk down the Monsal trail?”
Cllr Joyce Pawley, Labour, said: “If it has some slight repair work it could be kept open even just for 18 months.
“We are not raising a generation of wimps, as councillor Chapman made out, it is not the same, if you are out on a walk in the countryside you could tell your child to go behind a bush, but if you said that in the park [at Hall Leys] you would have health problems.”