TWO of Andover’s drug-plagued town centre toilets will close from this weekend following the launch of a new public convenience scheme.

Test Valley Borough Council has confirmed the public toilet at George Yard will close as of Sunday, and, alongside the already shut Bordon Gates facility, will remain so throughout the “indefinite” pilot period of its new community toilet scheme.

The pilot, which officially began this week, will involve three town centre businesses opening up their toilets to members of the public - without users having to make a purchase.

Costa, Caffe Nero and The Redbridge have all signed up to the scheme, which the council says has been “successful” in areas such as Portsmouth and the New Forest.

In return, the council will pay each company £1,500 per year.

The authority says the decision to close the current toilets and set up the new community scheme was a result of a persistent problem with drug users. This culminated in a council employee being injured by a suspected drug needle in February 2016.

Leader of TVBC, Phil North, said: “The council took the decision to temporarily close the toilets in George Yard last year in the interest of public safety.

“We regularly found used needles and other drug paraphernalia left in the cubicles.

“On one occasion, a member of our cleaning staff suffered an injury caused by a hidden needle.”

The council say the needle was concealed behind the toilet pan in the baby changing room area of the facility and pricked the council employee.

The Advertiser understands the staff member, who the council would not name due to data protection laws, was tested for infections and later given the all-clear.

The incident took place six months after the council initially closed both the George Yard and Bordon Gates toilets in October 2015 to deter drug users.

After consulting with Hampshire Constabulary, the council reopened the facilities in November.

However the toilets were again closed in May 2016, with the council admitting both facilities would be closed “indefinitely”.

The public conveniences at George Yard were re-opened in July 2016, with a security guard present, while Bordon Gates remained closed.

Councillor North added: “We have been working with the police to try to eradicate the problem, and we employed a security guard to enable us to re-open the block at George Yard to make the public feel safer.

“The presence of a security guard was always a temporary solution and, in order to carry out our duty to protect the public and our staff, we have now launched the community toilet scheme which is a much safer approach to providing facilities free of charge.

“We have based the concept on similar schemes that have proven to work well in other towns where participating businesses have reported increased footfall and trade as a result of participating.

“Making use of these commercial facilities also reduces the likelihood of any drug problem shifting to the high street due to a higher public and staff presence.”

Despite the council claiming the scheme has been successful in other towns, some local business owners have questioned if it will work in Andover.

One business owner told the Advertiser they would not sign up as they did not want a “load of smackheads” coming onto their premises.

Another, Cut Above owner, Ron Wood, said: “It’s not really going to work is it? I can’t see people taking their kids through a pub or cafe to use the toilets.

“I also can’t see any other businesses signing up to the scheme because they don’t want to risk druggies using their toilets instead.”

He added: “I just think the council are passing the buck.”

Tasha Donoghue, duty manager at the Redbridge, who is supporting the scheme, believes the scheme will be a success.

She said: “Yes it definitely will work. As horrible as it is to say, the problem with the public toilets in Andover is they aren’t very clean so I can understand why people won’t use them anyway.”

Asked why the pub was supporting the scheme, she added: “We’ve always had our toilets open to the public anyway so it made sense for us to be involved.”

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