Too many pounds to pee in Arran?

By Sarah Toom
BBC Scotland news


They say Arran is like Scotland in miniature.

Goatfell's handsome peak, the standing stones at Machrie Moor, and the doily-laden tea rooms with million-pound views and humbly-priced homemade Victoria sponge, are perhaps partly responsible for the island's tourism boom.

Another is that the cost of getting there is a lot cheaper than it used to be. Since the road equivalent tariff (RET) was introduced by the Scottish government in 2014, the cost of a return car journey on the ferry has fallen from £70 to £30.

Indeed, since fares were slashed there's been a 51% increase in car bookings on the Ardrossan-Brodick ferry and 60% on the Claonaig-Lochranza route.

It's great news for the island's 5,000 residents many of whom at least partly rely on tourism. In fact this year, they're expecting to host between 250,000 to 300,000 visitors.

So now would seem a good time to close all nine public toilets across the isle. Wouldn't it?

Community take-over

Rewind back to last spring and North Ayrshire Council announced that it was to close the conveniences to save £35,000 a year.

Many are decrepit after decades of use and are in need of repairs worth tens of thousands of pounds.

The local authority's justification included estimations that it cost "tens of pounds per pee" to maintain public loos in rural North Ayrshire.

Cue panic. Locals protested and an online petition to save the toilet blocks was launched.

Some villagers even offered to take the council up on its offer of a "community takeover" of their nearest toilet.

They enthusiastically debated the virtues of taking matters into their own hands to re-plumb, to replace doors, plunge blocked bowls and stock loo rolls. All for the sake of keeping Arran a "welcoming place".

Bill Calderwood who is chairman of Arran Community Council said there have been positive discussions which could see more than half of the conveniences reprieved thanks to volunteers.

"It's part of this making sure that Arran is seen as a welcoming and a good destination," he said.

"It's also a good thing for health and safety.

"That's the other thing - there is a requirement on councils to provide dog facilities but not for humans.

"It's a bit ironic for a tourist island to be faced with that."

Image caption,
There is a requirement on councils to provide dog facilities but not for humans, says Bill Calderwood, chairman of Arran Community Council

Still at least three of the facilities appear doomed. For example, come April, good luck if you're out in Lamlash or Lochranza, and you get that sinking feeling.

Lochranza at the northern tip boasts the island's second (and very modest) ferry terminal. A mile away is a community hall.

Kate Hartley, who looks after it, said: "If the ferry has just left and you've arrived there you're going to have about an hour and a half before it comes back in again.

"People are not going to want to leave the queue in the ferry to go and find a toilet.

"So I think it's going to have a major implication, more on people visiting Arran which is what our livelihood is on the island nowadays."

Image caption,
Kate Hartley looks after the toilets in the community hall in Lochranza

As Ms Hartley spoke, there occurred an auspicious and comical interruption. The postman, who'd been circumnavigating the island's perimeter road in his red van all afternoon - dashed with haste into the hall and directly into the gentlemen's.

It's never polite to interview a fellow emerging from a toilet about unmentionable things like toilets. But postman Chris graciously weighed in to the debate.

"I think it's ridiculous, I really do," he said.

"What are you supposed to do if you need the toilet, like anybody who's disabled or on holiday here and can't find anywhere to go.

"If it wasn't for opening hours at the community hall just now, that'd be me. You'd have to tie a knot in it!"

Drive south to the island's largest village Lamlash, and you can drink in views of the breathtaking Holy Island which shelters the bay to the east, as well as a decrepit, dank and depressing block of toilets on the shoreline.

North Ayrshire Council is closing them and no-one is planning a replacement. The community balked at an estimated £6,000 for the initial refurbishment and about £6,000 a year for running costs.

Dog facilities

Jane Howe owns the Pierhead Tavern directly across the road.

She said: "The consequences for us will be that everybody will come and use the toilets inside here which doesn't seem fair.

"The sailors will come and change, the children will come running in from the beach across the road, and people hiking in the hills come in.

"Once the business is closed at night time people are going to be using the street or the back of the car park to go to the toilet.

"Who's going to be responsible for cleaning the mess up?

"Indeed if the council says it costs £30 a pee, perhaps they could take that off our rates bill."

Ms Howe said a few years ago VisitArran approached North Ayrshire Council about a possible "comfort stop" scheme, where local businesses could gain something off their business rates if they allowed the public to use their facilities.

However, the proposal "went nowhere".

Image caption,
Jane Howe owns the Pierhead Tavern directly across the road from Lamlash public toilets
Image caption,
Lamlash public toilets are set to close
Image caption,
The toilets have become decrepit after decades of use

Craig Hatton, executive director of place at North Ayrshire Council, said there was major pressure on budgets.

"Since 2010, we've had to save £73m which is a considerable amount of money," he said.

"In terms of toilets we really value these facilities but we have a number of competing demands.

"The closures on Arran will save £35,000 a year.

"But we're hoping that in the longer term that most or all of these facilities will be transferred through community take-overs to remain open."

In the meantime an online petition calling for a rethink - with 1,600 signatures - has been submitted to North Ayrshire Council.

Are the cuts of £35,000 value for money or a false economy?

Whatever happens, islanders seem determined to do whatever it takes to keep up their reputation as a convenient place to visit.

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