Flush-stration over closures of public toilets in Sutherland, as Highland Council admits that surge in use and problems caused by chemical toilet disposals means some facilities can't cope
FRUSTRATED communities are paying the social and economic price of the county’s creaking public toilet network.
That’s the view of critics who have called for urgent action to tackle the problem, after major issues at several key sites left some of the county’s public toilets closed “indefinitely”.
A surge in their use, coupled with repeated incidents of irresponsible emptying of chemical toilets, has meant that many sites have been struggling to cope.
Reports of blocked pipes and unclean interiors have dogged locations across Sutherland.
And, in the case of sites like Bonar Bridge and Lairg, the council has been forced to pull down the shutters for the time being because the pipes kept being blocked within hours of being cleared.
"Bonar Bridge is closed due to continual blocking and backing up of the waste/sewage pipes due to chemical toilets being emptied into the drains/toilets," a council spokesman confirmed. "We are unable to keep the site open, as soon as the drains clear away or we have someone out to clear them they are backed up again within hours.
"Therefore this site will remained closed for the foreseeable future due to this problem while we obtain a quote for replacing all pipework and drainage system to ensure continued use in light of the challenges we face at that site with campervans."
They added that Lairg has "similar issues" and won't be able to reopen until work is done on the pipes.
Kinlochbervie campaigner Margaret Meek, who spearheaded the region’s Save Our Toilets campaign when several sites were threatened with closure, says the current situation is incredibly stressful – both for people in her age group, but also for the many people who rely on public facilities while driving about Sutherland for deliveries or other work.
"It is absolutely heartless to leave them closed. It is so stressful for people in my age group," she said.
"Both of Bonar Bridge and Lairg are well used by people from the west coast travelling to and from Inverness (it’s the mid-point).
"Ironically, I’ve noticed that they are both also well used by Highland Council staff.
"In both cases it was the dumping of motorhome waste that has led to their closure. I was so stressed out about it a couple of weeks ago that I travelled home from a late appointment via Ullapool just for the sake of knowing that there was a public toilet available."
She added that the issues are not just confined to Bonar Bridge and Lairg, with Tain's facilities closed while waiting on refurbishment work, and residents of Golspie, Dornoch and Brora all complaining that their facilities "are not being cleaned properly or are getting messed up by visitors faster than they can be cleaned".
Sutherland MP Jamie Stone said the matter was a serious problem for residents right across his constituency.
"Having just conducted clinics through large parts of the NC500 route, my constituents have made the scale of this problem abundantly clear to me," he said.
"Quite simply, our public infrastructure is failing because we are seeing unprecedented numbers of tourists visiting the North Highlands. Public toilets across Sutherland should be prime locations for swift investment from the Scottish Government and the NC500 Ltd, both of which have marketed the area to visitors."
North, West and Central Sutherland ward councillor, Linda Munro, said it was a shame that the actions of a minority were causing problems for all, and urged people to act responsibly.
She said: "It’s about people not playing by the rules. Not all caravan folk do this, not everyone is guilty, but those that do are playing havoc with our water system.
"We have delivery drivers, we have home carers, nurses etc, who have to travel big distances – if they need to use public facilities what havoc is being caused for them, as well as for visitors staying?
“We don’t have the facilities we’d like to have, and we’re working on that as a council, but in the meantime, you can go in caravan parks etc and pay to empty your cassette there. You would do that anywhere abroad, it shouldn’t be any different here."
While sites await vital upgrade work, Highland Council has urged people to use the toilets "responsibly", stressing: "Don’t use them to dispose of your chemical waste and don’t try to flush down items that will block the toilets.”
They added: "There is an exceptionally high amount of use at all of the public conveniences in the area and cleaning staff follow regular and rigorous clearing schedules and unfortunately some sites can become messy shortly after a cleaner has visited. Any issues will always be dealt with when the cleaner next attends to the site, or when the matter is raised with us.
They also added that there are 50 comfort scheme sites dotted across the Highlands – businesses which let the public use their toilets – and urged people to check the list on the Highland Council website.
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