COUNCILLORS are seeking a review of spending on public toilets after a Clare Champion investigation revealed the local authority spends almost €180,000 renting five automated public conveniences in different locations, writes Dan Danaher.
The expenditure on contract automated public conveniences increased slightly from €179,202 in 2020 to €179,714 in 2021, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
This includes an annual cost of €37,834 for a single automated public convenience in Killaloe, Market, Ennis, Abbey Street, Ennis, Kilkee and €28,375 in Kilrush.
The cost of running and maintaining permanent facilities in Lahinch Seaworld fell from €49,701 to €37,355, while expenditure on Lissycasey public convenience fell from €7,077 to €2,012. This doesn’t include the estimated cost of €141,500 additional temporary public toilets that were put in place from May 1 to September 1.
The authority spent €50,000 providing toilet facilities in Doolin Pier, €40,000 on Fanore Beach, €21,500 in Ballyalla, Ennis, €14,000 in Ballycuggeran, Killaloe and €6,000 in White Strand, Doonbeg.
The council only earned a small fraction of the cost of renting these facilities over the last three years. In 2019, the authority accrued an income of €4,680 from these automated conveniences, which fell to €3,356 last year, but increased to €6,251 up to the end of August 2021.
Council chairman, Councillor P J Ryan said a review is needed concerning the council’s expenditure on public toilets, notwithstanding the demand to provide adequate facilities, particularly in seaside resorts.
Councillor Ryan said the provision of more permanent toilet blocks funded by proceeds from parking may be more viable than incurring annual considerable rental costs.
Acknowledging public conveniences are needed throughout the county and are lacking in some areas such as Ennistymon, Councillor Shane Talty called for an assessment of the model of delivering and financing of them.
This review, he said should also include an examination of parking bye-laws, as large revenue streams are being potentially missed through poor application of these regulations, particularly in busier seaside locations.
Councillor Talty said expenditure on public toilets is part of a charging structure for parking, which delivers an income stream.
When people flock in large numbers to places like Lahinch and Kilkee, he noted they can use public toilets on the basis they are charged for public parking.
He outlined the new toilet block in Lahinch is an example of what is required in other areas.
“There isn’t a national funding scheme to deliver a toilet block. Does the council borrow a few million Euro to provide toilet blocks elsewhere? Maybe that is better value than spending €180,000 on renting public conveniences.”
However, Councillor Johnny Flynn believes the automated public conveniences are providing great value for money and is seeking a third one in Parnell Street car park near the taxi rank in view of queues of people at this location day and night.
Councillor Flynn recalled the former Ennis Town Council completed a number of reviews of public toilets in Ennis.
This found public car parks in Ennis town centre generated €1.2 million on average back in 2014 when the toilets were costing about €70,000 for self-cleaning, fully automated accessible facilities with full time maintenance, which translated into 5% of the income from parking.
“Ennis is an Age Friendly town and was awarded third cleanest town to European standards. We also have the Purple Flag with auditors coming from the United Kingdom and around Ireland.
“They complete an audit of the town centre on public facilities from 5pm to 5am.”
He said the auditors have identified these public toilets are operating to a very high standard, while some towns have no public toilets or their facilities are closed at night.
Acknowledging the importance of value for money, he said the automated self-cleaning facilities are operating 128,760 hours a year at an average cost of sixty cent an hour.
“These toilets protect public health and are used during large public events such as St Patrick’s Day events. It is important public conveniences are properly maintained. Public toilets were closed throughout the country because it wasn’t deemed safe for staff to go in and clean them.”
“These toilets are providing exceptionally good value for money. Huge capital costs are involved in providing facilities that are fully accessible,” he said.