THE public toilets at The Wharf will be reopened from tomorrow (Friday), Newbury Town Council has confirmed.
The move, announced today, comes after fears were raised over the damaging effect the closure could have on Newbury's economy when it emerged coaches were avoiding stopping in the town.
However the reprieve is only planned on a temporary basis while a survey is carried out to establish if a pay-to-use turnstile system would be viable.
Neither Newbury Town Council or West Berkshire Council could give an accurate estimate on user numbers and so it is expected the toilets will now remain open for up to four months while the viability study is carried out.
Currently up to 1,000 coach passengers per week use Newbury as a stop-off point to make use of the public conveniences and then to eat or shop.
But all that was set to change following West Berkshire Council’s decision to close the public toilets at The Wharf and at Pembroke Road as part of the swingeing £17.5million cuts.
Many coach drivers have warned that without easily accessible public toilets they will no longer be stopping in Newbury.
Despite most coaches being equipped with on-board toilets, drivers say they are not suitable for elderly or disabled passengers owing to the steep steps.
Yesterday (Wednesday) the Newbury Weekly News witnessed the confusion of passengers as they made their way to the public toilets, only to be confronted by a padlocked metal door.
Driver Alan Bolton of Brookline coaches said: “I’d just directed them to toilets in the car park as I’ve been stopping here for years.
“Now I know they’re closed I’ll certainly think twice about stopping here again.
“I’ll probably let the other drivers know at the company that if they do need a toilet stop then the public toilets in Newbury have closed and I’m sure that will put most off.”
Another coach driver, Garry Medhurst, said: “It’s an ideal in-between stop.
“It’s a nice little town that people like to come to, they can shop and there’s a museum.
“But I definitely wouldn’t stop here anymore – you’ve got Winchester just down the road.”
Others have been spreading the word on social media.
Posting on the Facebook group Coach Drivers North and South, Dale Scutter said: “For anyone that may use Newbury as a loo stop, the loos by the coach park are now closed and the coach park plans to be the bus station soon.”
On hearing the news another driver, Stewart Clarke, wrote on the Coach Driver Club Facebook group: “What’s the point in stopping anywhere if there are no facilities?”
And Glynis O’Connor, wrote: “I used to like stopping at Newbury, toilets nearby and choice of eating places, but it’s a no-go now I’m afraid.”
Office and events manager at Newbury BID Suzanne Young estimated an average of 16 coaches stop in Newbury each week, bringing up to 800 passengers to the town.
She conceded that the decline of coaches having short stop-overs would impact on the town’s trade and said: “We’re fairly devastated. Certainly it’s not what we want to happen, but we’re living in a time when cuts are being made.
“It’s not just the money – we want to bring people in to show them what a lovely town it is. We’ll just have to wait to see what the longer term impact will be.”
Earlier in the year Newbury Town Council launched a bid to keep the toilets open, setting aside £15,000 to go towards the running costs on the understanding that West Berkshire Council would initially help to pay some of the costs.
However, the cash-strapped district council said it couldn’t afford to contribute resulting in the clousre of the toilets at the beginning of this month.
Newbury Town Council leader Dave Goff said: “Clearly there is definitely an impact in terms of the coaches stopping off and getting people into Newbury. If you want people to continue to come here then we need the toilets there at The Wharf.
The toilets are now set to reopen from 9am tomorrow (Friday) through funding from Newbury Town Council with council chief executive Hugh Peacocke hoping it will lead to a permanent solution.
He said: “The council provided £15,000 of funding in this year’s budget for the toilets.
“They’ll reopen on a temporary basis while we explore longer term options which will include turnstiles if we’re satisfied that it’s a viable option.”