A petition had been received in the following terms:
"We demand that the Public Toilets on Westgate are re-opened with immediate effect, local residents and visitors to the City of Lincoln need them back and their extended closure is unacceptable. Using covid to close them temporarily and now making that closure permanent is unacceptable."
As the number of signatures in support of the petition had exceeded 900, the lead petitioner, Fiona Purkiss, had been invited to present the petition in accordance with the Council's petition scheme. The Mayor welcomed Fiona Purkiss to the meeting and invited her to present her petition to the Council.
Presentation by the Lead Petitioner
The lead petitioner called on the Council to ignore party politics and to consider this item as a free vote. Other points in the presentation included:
· Local businesses had not been consulted on the proposal and had not been approached regarding sponsorship.
· The facilities were in good, award winning, condition and their state of repair could not be used as an argument for closure.
· Individuals should not be told by the City Council to use the facilities of local cafeterias and restaurants as an alternative.
· Whilst the provision for people with disabilities would remain open via the use of a radar key, this was of no use to the elderly, tourists and children.
· The annual costs of retaining the facilities would be £9,000, which was not a significant sum in the overall context of the City of Lincoln's budget, and there had been unnecessary examples of Council expenditure in excess of this sum.
· The facilities at Westgate were of benefit to all members of the community, whereas at the facilities at Castle Square tended to be used only by tourists.
It was also stated that the petition had remained open and to date 1,460 signatures had been received.
It was moved, seconded and resolved that Council Procedure Rule 17.4 [the content and length of speeches] be suspended to allow the Leader of the Council and the Leader of the Opposition unlimited time to speak on this item.
Councillor Bob Bushell stated that the Westgate facilities had been closed from March 2020, the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, at that time on a temporary basis. However, all council services had to be reviewed in the light of the Council's overall financial position and at times difficult decisions had to be made. The facilities at Westgate would continue to be open to people with disabilities by means of a radar key; and all facilities would continue to be open when significant events were taking place. Members of the public had not been encouraged to use facilities in cafeterias and restaurants. Facilities would continue to remain open in Castle Square, at a short distance. It was highlighted that a request to call in the decision by the Executive on the Public Conveniences Services Review would be considered by the Select Scrutiny Committee on 28 July 2021.
Councillor Tom Dyer, the Leader of the Opposition, recorded his thanks to the petition organiser for her efforts in seeking significant support for the petition, which was focused on the Westgate facilities, whereas the Select Scrutiny Committee would be considering overall provision across the City. Councillor Dyer stated that a decision on the petition should be made at this meeting.
Councillor Dyer recorded his support for the petition and argued that the consultation on the proposal had not been adequate and that the annual costs of retaining the facilities at Westgate at an approximate cost of £10,000 per annum could be accommodated within the Council's overall finances. He acknowledged the challenges to the Council's overall budgetary position, but stated that no information had been put forward by the Council on how it intended to meet its savings target. Councillor Dyer referred to a report to the Audit Committee on 22 July 2021, which had suggested that the Council's financial position was less challenging than expected.
Councillor Dyer also referred to the importance of the City's tourist offer, through its heritage, history and independent shops, and stressed the role of the Council in supporting that offer and local businesses, which in turn would influence business rate tax base.
It was moved by Councillor Dyer and seconded by Councillor Mark Storer that the Council take the action requested by the petition.
The Mayor ruled that the motion set out above was in order. The Mayor also advised that it was open to each member of the Select Scrutiny Committee to decide how they would participate in this item, provided that they would be able to consider the matter at the meeting on 28 July 2021 with an open mind. Further to this, Councillors Bill Bilton, Jane Loffhagen, Hilton Spratt, Eddie Strengiel and Calum Watt all stated that they would neither participate in the discussion of this item nor vote.
Councillor Lucinda Preston referred to the reductions in central government funding to local government since 2010, including the funding to the City of Lincoln Council, and the impact this was having on the ability to provide services.
On being put to the meeting, a recorded vote was held on the motion set out about above, with members of the Council voting as follows:
For the Motion (6) – Councillors Alan Briggs, David Clarkson, Tom Dyer, Bill Mara, Clare Smalley and Mark Storer.
Against the Motion (17) – The Mayor, Councillor Jackie Kirk, and Councillors Biff Bean, Chris Burke, Sue Burke, Bob Bushell, Liz Bushell, Gary Hewson, Rosanne Kirk, Rebecca Longbottom, Helena Mair, Adrianna McNulty, Ric Metcalfe, Neil Murray, Donald Nannestad, Lucinda Preston, Pat Vaughan and Lorraine Woolley.
Abstaining from Voting (5) – Councillors Bill Bilton, Jane Loffhagen, Hilton Spratt, Eddie Strengiel and Calum Watt.
The motion was declared lost.
Councillor Ric Metcalfe, recorded his sympathy for the terms of the petition and supported good quality public conveniences, and most of these facilities provided by the City of Lincoln Council would remain open, including those at Castle Square, the City bus station, and at Tentercroft Street.
Councillor Metcalfe referred to the legal duty on the Council to balance its budget and committed to keeping the level of public conveniences provided under review. If the Council’s financial position were to improve, the Council would consider the re?opening of the full facilities at Westgate. There was a gap in the current provision in the City centre between the facilities at Castle Square and the bus station and ideally facilities could be located between these two, if premises were to become available and there was adequate financial provision for the revenue costs.
Councillor Metcalfe stated that the Council's financial position was a result of the policies of central government since 2010, with reductions on public spending. Since 2010, the budget for the City of Lincoln Council had been reduced by £8 million, which represented a significant sum for a district council. Furthermore, the Council was required to identify further budget reductions of £1.75 million over the next two years. The Covid-19 pandemic had led to a significant loss of income, which had put the Council in serious financial circumstances. Councillor Metcalfe referred to argument that the facilities at Westgate could be funded by savings from elsewhere, and stated that following eleven years of budget reductions every area of council expenditure had been scrutinised. Painful decisions had been made, for example the closure of the Drill Hall and the Council’s reductions in staffing, and further painful decisions would need to be made again.
It was moved by Councillor Ric Metcalfe and seconded by Councillor Donald Nannestad that the petition be considered by the Select Scrutiny Committee at its meeting on 28 July 2021. Councillor Metcalfe added that the Committee was due to consider a request for call in of a decision by the Executive on 24 June 2021 on overall public convenience provision. Councillor Metcalfe referred to the report considered by the Executive, which included details on consultation and alternative options.
In seconding the motion, Councillor Donald Nannestad referred to members of the public understanding the financial position of the Council and reiterated that if the Council’s financial situation were to improve, consideration would be given to the full reopening of the Westgate facilities.
Councillor Mark Storer referred to the need to encourage people to come into to the City of which access to public conveniences was an important consideration for tourists.
On being put to the meeting, the motion set out above was declared carried.
RESOLVED that the petition be considered by the Select Scrutiny Committee at its meeting on 28 July 2021, as part of the agenda item on request to Call-In the Public Conveniences Services Review.