Concern about the continued closure of public conveniences in Hastings and St Leonards is growing. Local social media posts on the subject reflect a similar debate echoed in national papers and around the country where visitors have been journeying to beaches, parks and beauty spots to enjoy exceptionally sunny weather only to find public toilets locked with no alternative available in cafes, pubs and shops.

PICTURE: Dave Young

In a letter to a concerned constituent, council leader Kim Forward stated: “I am sorry that our decision to continue with the toilet closure is causing you inconvenience. Our priority remains to protect our residents and employees. Our amenities remain closed and our message is that we are closed to visitors. Although Hastings was busier than we would have liked it to be on Bank Holiday Monday, it was far less busy than usual so we believe our messaging is working. Fewer people in our town means that it is easier for us to stay two metres apart. Our infection rate in Hastings is low and we would like it to be even lower. The decision to keep them closed will be reviewed weekly.” 

However, like it or not, day-trippers are coming. Other seaside towns – in north Norfolk, Thanet, Lyme Regis and Porthcawl, for instance – either opened toilets in time for the recent bank holiday or plan to do so shortly in response to complaints about the growing public health hazard that closure is causing.

The lack hits women particularly hard, whereas in extremis men can urinate standing upright and don’t menstruate or get pregnant. Children are often unable to wait, and outside workers, such as lorry and van drivers, and those repairing roads and utilities, are denied basic facilities.

Closure adds additional difficulties to the day-to-day lives of the disabled and people constrained by mobility impairments. Many post-operative patients, particularly after cancer, along with prostate and Crohn’s disease sufferers, are kept indoors, unable to exercise or make even limited social contact. 

As lockdown eases, local residents look forward to shops and other services reopening in June providing a desperately needed boost to the local economy. Many won’t be able to visit them without the assurance of toilet facilities nearby. 

The original closure in the face of a national emergency was understandable – but many people are asking when council policies will adapt to reflect changing circumstances. 

Currently its policy doesn’t seem to reflect the latest guidance from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government: “While decisions to reopen public toilets are for councils, we strongly encourage them to open wherever possible. We’ve published guidance to help them ensure facilities are safe where they are open, including increasing cleaning of touch points.”

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