Taxpayers’ cash ‘flushed away’ in toilet closures

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News: Sheffield Telegraph online 24-hours a day.

A POLITICAL row erupted this week over the proposed closure of seven recently refurbished community toilets in Sheffield.

Ruling Labour councillors were accused by Liberal Democrats of “flushing away” taxpayers’ money by spending more than £260,000 on the public toilets over the past seven years - and now preparing to shut them.

But the Labour group said it could not have foreseen the extent of the cuts being imposed by the Coalition Government.

Tomorrow’s (Friday) budget meeting of the council is expected to confirm the closure of community toilets at Chapeltown, Bradfield, Rivelin Post Office, Abbey Lane, Meadowhead, Fox House and Burngreave.

New buildings at Rivelin and Abbey Lane have cost £70,000 and £73,000, respectively, said the Lib Dems, and Chapeltown toilets received a complete refurbishment at a cost of £80,000 as recently as 2010.

The opposition group says the closures will save an estimated £68,000 - equivalent to the salary of a recently-appointed Director of Integration.

Coun Ian Auckland, local Lib Dem councillor for Graves Park, which contains the Abbey Lane toilets, said: “Local residents fought long and hard for new community toilets on Abbey Lane.

“I’m proud that we were able to invest in new facilities. Closing those toilets just a few years later would be like flushing that investment down the bog.”

Chapeltown resident Colin Taylor backed the Lib Dem stance, saying: “Just a few years ago, Chapeltown toilets were given a complete refurbishment – something that had been lacking for years. To close them down simply doesn’t make sense.

“It really does show Labour’s attitude to local taxpayers’ money that they are willing to let this investment go to waste.”

But Labour cabinet member Coun Isobel Bowler said: “As people in Sheffield are well aware by now we are having to make some major service cuts to balance our budget. “We are working hard to make the ‘least worst’ cuts and are protecting toilets in parks, but have had to propose closing these ten sites to save £250,000 a year.

“When capital investment in community facilities was made over the last ten years we couldn’t have foreseen the Coalition attack on local government and the significant and unfair cut they would make to our budget this year.

“The Lib Dems ought to speak to Nick Clegg, after all he is the one letting public services be “flushed away” by agreeing to unfair cuts to Sheffield’s budget.

“If we don’t save the money this way we will have to cut another service instead as the Lib Dems well know. I’d be interested to know what they would they cut instead.”

The Labour group says almost £250,000 a year will be saved when some city centre public toilets are also closed.

However, seven public toilets are being kept open - in Angel Street, Exchange Street and Devonshire Green in the city centre and in Birley Moor Road, Darnall, Deepcar and Hillsborough.

“Provision of toilets in our parks is a critical factor for visitors and we do not proposed to make any further cuts to these,” says the budget report that will be presented to councillors tomorrow.