Public toilets and the Steamboat

After countless letters to the Chronicle and presumably complaints to its own offices, Congleton Town Council is thinking of spending money on refurbishing the town’s disgraceful toilets. Hooray.

It would be churlish to say this is not because of the complaints from local tax payers but because some men on bikes are visiting the town, so we won’t. But the council clearly doesn’t want the visitors who come to see the Tour of Britain going home inconvenienced.
Which is good: the toilets are disgrace. But let’s hope the council makes a better job of it, and is more transparent, than with its abortive purchase of the digital display unit.

That saw little consultation, no transparency and the predictable loss of £20,000 of tax payers’ money you might expect when rules and standing orders — and even the Finance Committee —were ignored.

At a meeting tonight (Thursday) councillors will be looking at spending up to three times that sum on a full refurbishment. Other possibilities are a partial facelift £10,000, a portable temporary cabin or closing the toilets.

Closure is not such a bad idea, as long as the council gets local businesses involved by letting shoppers nip in for a call of nature. Costa is in many ways a de facto public toilet, which can be annoying for paying customers, and getting all the pubs and food outlets to band together and offer a share-a-loo service would be cheaper, albeit an imposition on the goodwill of business.

But given that there are plans to spend £1m on a new “public realm” it would seem silly not to include decent toilets in that plan, and new toilets are at least as complicated as buying a digital display unit.

If the council goes ahead with doing up the toilets it needs to be open about the cost and what the specs are, and who it’s paying.

The council tonight (Thursday) will be given three quotes for the work — £61,000, £49,500 and £35,000 — but none of these companies are local and we don’t as yet know what their quotes are for.

As one of our Facebook followers bluntly put it: “£61 thousand my arse! Who’s pricing these jobs?”

Another, more politely commented: “I could build a 70m2 two-storey extension for that.”
After its failure over the DDU, the council needs to be very sure it is getting value for money this time round.

As for leasing: this writer’s old stamping ground, Accrington, ended up with a toilet that cost the taxpayer £18 every time it was flushed. The Universal Superloo prefab town centre toilet was used less than five times a day on average and so cost the council £18.38 every time someone spent a penny, the Accrington Observer (or “t’Observer” as locals call it) reported.

The annual rental costs of the Universal Superloo, owned by JC Decaux, were up to £29,300, t’Observer said, which might look good value if the toilet is well used. Hyndburn council had to buy its way out of the contract.

***

Walking down the canal, it may cross your mind what the reaction would be today, if someone wanted to build a massive ditch through farmland, so private companies could make money. Yet look at them now, much-loved wildlife corridors.

The same is now becoming true of the Congleton Steamboat, a venture as ill-fated as the town council’s digital display unit. Joe Terry, the man who put it there, built it to last and last it has — and some people are starting to appreciate it more than you might expect.

A woman who lives near the boat and follows us on Facebook commented this week: “Looking out of my window just after 8am, I saw a dipper, a kingfisher and a pair of goosanders, plus all the usual, mallards and pigeons. All this wonderful bird-life will go if the steamboat is moved, as Congleton Beach — the sand that surrounds the boat — will be washed away.”

So there you go — from eyesore to wildlife sanctuary.

Maybe that’s the boat’s future — Cheshire Wildlife Trust taking it over and turning it into a giant bird hide.

It’s a tough former North Sea trawler so it’s going to last a long time. Rip out the insides and leave an easy-to-use and low maintenance facility for people to watch the birds.
The nearby St Mary’s School is big on ecology — they could design information boards to tell people what birds they can see and keep an eye on the place.

We can’t get rid of the boat and it failed as a restaurant but it could make a great — and novel — tourist attraction for Congleton.

Margaret Williamson — we need you back!

4 thoughts on “Public toilets and the Steamboat”

  1. What about turning the boat into public toilets 😀 simples perhaps even a glass bottom so you can see the perch too!

  2. Which DDU are you referring to? If it’s the one that was in the TIC it was £7k and was funded by Visit Cheshire. People also forget that in 2006 King Sturge were paid just under £100k to produce a town centre master plan that has sat on a shelf for 10 years.

    1. It’s a different one. Then council failed to ask for tenders and went for a young company and did no due diligence. It paid a hefty deposit (£20k Inc the vat) and the money then disappeared. The finance committee were not consulted for a long period either.

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