Questions have been raised at East Devon District Council over why it is spending £5 million upgrading 15 of its public toilets, writes Will Goddard.

That’s an average of £333,333 per loo; about the same as an average semi-detached house in the area

Councillors have voted to start a new group to look at the plans and estimated costs of the improvements. 

In 2021, the council divided its WCs into three categories: A, B and C.   

Category A conveniences, of which there are 15, will be refurbished or rebuilt at an estimated cost of £5 million. Previously this amount was £3.4 million, but building inflation has added an extra £1.6 million to the bill. It will cost users 40p each time, which has to be met with a contactless payment card or phone.

Category B and C toilets, of which there are 12, have been offered for commercial operators to repurpose them into cafes, takeaways or community hubs – although the public must still be able to go to the loo there – and also to town and parish councils to run in place of East Devon District Council, which can no longer afford them. 

Cllr Ian Barlow (Independent, Sidmouth Town) pointed out that more money was being spent on upgrading the council’s category A loos than planned maintenance for its more than 4,000 social homes, although he did realise the funds came from different places.  

Cllr Paul Hayward (Independent, Axminster) said in response: “This council recognises that spending on the maintenance of our housing stock can only come forward via the ring-fenced housing revenue account, whereas targeted spending on… the modernisation of our no-longer-fit-for-purpose WC assets is proposed to come from our revenue budgets and capital expenditure allocations, a wholly different and legally distinct pot of money.” 

Cllr Barlow also questioned whether the council was getting good prices for the loo upgrades.  “Refurbishment of Seaton toilets is going to cost £30,000. To put up new toilets in Exmouth is going to cost £408,000,” he said.

“I’m not into cutting toilets. I really am not. I want more toilets. 

“But at the end of the day, the amount we’re spending is not value for money.” 

Cllr Eleanor Rylance (Lib Dem, Broadclyst) responded: “I really very much trust our officers to do due diligence on any contracts that they commission.  

“I don’t think we can judge in this chamber whether or not something is value for money in that respect. We’ve had several examples though of how procurement at the lowest possible price can go very badly wrong.”  

East Devon’s public toilets are ranked as follows:  

Category A  

  1. West Street Car Park, Axminster  
  2. Cliff Path (West End/Steamer), Budleigh Salterton  
  3. East End (Lime Kiln), Budleigh Salterton  
  4. Jubilee Gardens, Beer  
  5. Foxholes Car Park, Exmouth  
  6. Magnolia Centre (London Inn), Exmouth   
  7. Manor Gardens, Exmouth  
  8. Phear Park, Exmouth  
  9. Queens Drive, Exmouth  
  10. Lace Walk, Honiton  
  11. West Walk, Seaton  
  12. Connaught Gardens, Sidmouth  
  13. Triangle, Sidmouth  
  14. Market Place, Sidmouth  
  15. Ham car park (new site), Sidmouth  

Categories B and C  

  1. Orcombe Point, Exmouth  
  2. The Maer, Exmouth  
  3. Imperial Road, Exmouth  
  4. Jarvis Close, Exmouth  
  5. Seaton Hole, Seaton  
  6. Harbour Road, Seaton  
  7. Marsh Road, Seaton  
  8. Brook Road, Budleigh Salterton  
  9. Station Road, Budleigh Salterton  
  10. Dolphin Street, Colyton  
  11. King Street, Honiton  
  12. Port Royal, Sidmouth