The Beadnell Bay public toilets traditionally close at the end of October and reopen at Easter but a verbal agreement to keep them open all year round has been reached between Beadnell Parish Council and Northumberland County Council.
At their meeting on Wednesday night, parish councillors made a commitment to work towards part-financing the winter opening costs.
Greg Gavin, county council head of neighbourhood services, attended the meeting to offer a ‘compromise’ whereby the parish council would work towards stumping up funds over a three year period rather than paying out £2,000 per year.
He suggested that the parish council could pay zero this year, £1,000 next year and £2,000 the year after.
Parish councillors agreed to accept the first part of the offer so the toilets will stay open this winter. They will review their commitment at their January budget-setting meeting.
Chairman Alison Nation said: “We have a three-year offer and we can pull out whenever we like. We are only committing ourselves to the toilets being open this winter and that is at no charge. We will then see what options we have for the future.
“On better days when I go down that way in the winter, people are always asking me where the nearest toilets are. We are quite unusual in that there are no businesses nearby that could offer to open their doors for people to spend a penny.
“It is also about 7.5 miles between the nearest alternative public toilets at Newton and Seahouses – and we all know how much busier the Coast Path has been getting.”
Coun Jacqui Davison added: “Unless we try it this winter we are not going to know how busy it is – or how grateful people are going to be.”
There was also a consensus that charges should be introduced, although a decision on this will have to wait until a county council review of public conveniences is completed.
Coun Jennifer Hall said: “We should be charging. We charge so much for parking but don’t charge for people going to the loo.
“I think it’s quite a generous offer and we do have things in our current precept which we will not have in the future.”
Coun Michael Dawson added: “We need a public toilet open this winter and the only way is to commit that next year we can put something towards it. I hope we get charges put in – what’s 20p?”
Mr Gavin explained that seasonal opening times were introduced in places with lower footfall following a review of public toilets in 2015 which was prompted by budget pressures.
He said: “For the ones we closed in winter we made an offer to all the parish council that if they were to make a contribution towards the costs of keeping them open then we would. Now the cost of keeping them open in winter is far more than the £2,000 we asked for.
“A number of parish councils said no and Beadnell was one of those but there were a significant number of parish councils that did contribute £2,000 to keep their facilities open during the winter.
“The issue of accepting the parish council’s request to keep them open in winter would be patently unfair and inequitable in terms of all those parish councils that have made a contribution. There are lots of examples but a few are Boulmer, Alnmouth and Wall.
“We can’t just say we’ll not ask Beadnell to pay £2,000 because that would not be right but we understand that the parish council has a low precept and small budget and to come up with that £2,000 would be very difficult.
“If the parish council would be prepared to consider building up its precept towards achieving that in the future there might be compromise in terms of the phasing of that contribution so, for example, we could perhaps open the toilets this winter for free subject to that commitment being there, then next year the parish council could contribute £1,000 and then the year after the full contribution which would give a period of three years to build up that budget.”