Fri, 10 Apr 2015
THATCHAM residents can uncross their legs as the town council has agreed to purchase the public toilets in the Broadway.
More than 1,600 people signed a petition to keep the toilets open after West Berkshire Council announced it would withdraw its funding in an attempt to find savings in its budget.
The district council offered the toilets to Thatcham Town Council for £1 in January and said it would keep them open until October to allow a feasibility study to be carried out.
The town council already contributes £10,000 towards the £55,448 needed to run the building and the issue has become the centre of a political row between the Liberal Democrat-controlled town council and the Conservative opposition.
The Lib Dems argue that the timing of the announcement is so that the Conservatives could not be seen to be closing the toilets so close to the upcoming elections in May, while the Tories say that local facilities should be run by local councils.
At an extraordinary meeting called to discuss the future of the toilets recently, Owen Jeffery (Lib Dem, Thatcham South and Crookham) proposed that the town council purchase the toilets, noting that the district council had planned to close the loos in September 2013 until the town council told it an agreement existed until April 2015.
He said that he could assure local residents that the town council would be able to fund the toilets without it impacting on council tax, in the face of the Conservative-controlled district council leaving a hole in its budget by not passing on the full amount of Government grant meant for parishes.
Defending his Conservative colleagues, Richard Crumly (Thatcham Central) said that the district council had to make cuts as its money from central Government had been cut and raised concerns surrounding purdah – the period before an election where local councils are prevented from making announcements that could influence voters – as the motion could be seen as trying to win votes.
At the meeting, Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) accused his political opponents of hypocrisy as they had voted for West Berkshire Council’s proposal to cut funding to the toilets, yet said they wanted to keep them open when speaking at the town council.
He said: “In my eyes and the eyes of the electorate it will be seen as hypocrisy... this is not electioneering... we are listening to the people and securing the future of an asset in the town.”
Liberal Democrats voted in favour of the proposal. Mr Crumly abstained due to concerns over purdah.
Speaking on the decision, Mr Morgan said: “A large number of people in Thatcham sent a clear message that they wanted us to keep the toilets open after West Berkshire Council voted to close them.
“Having given the financial implications a good deal of thought, we found the funding required to keep the toilets open from October 2015.
“This purchase really underlines how we gather residents’ feedback and then act on it. We are listening.”