CONCERNS were raised about drug abuse and disability access to the community toilet scheme (CTS) as councillors debated a petition to save the George Yard toilets at a meeting on 23 February.

A petition with around 5,000 signatures was put to full council for debate despite the decision being taken by cabinet to demolish the block.

Demolition of the George Yard toilets began on the following Thursday 1 March.

Councillors could only debate the issue but no vote was held after the discussion.

Petition organiser David Coole said: “The decision to close/demolish the toilets and introduce CTS to solve drug abuse is an embarrassment for council and a disaster for residents, businesses and visitors.

“The report approved by cabinet is inadequate and premature. Cabinet claims CTS is working well. I tell you now, it is not.

“Disabled people cannot independently access CTS premises. The elderly, infirm, young families and people with bladder problems need to use toilets quickly on arrival in main car parks.

“Most people do not like using CTS. People are publicly urinating and wetting themselves. The Chantry Centre staff are struggling to maintain the remaining public toilets.”

Councillors agreed more provisions were needed for disabled access toilets in the town, particularly in the form of a changing places provision.

Leader of Test Valley Borough Council Phil North said: “We need additional disabled facilities in Andover town centre. All of the facilities comply with standards with access needs but I understand disabled people have problems.”

Cllr North also announced Andover Leisure Centre has confirmed a changing places facility will be available for people to use there.

He added in a later statement: “I am pleased to report that within the new Andover Leisure Centre, there will be a dedicated changing places facility and Places for People Leisure will make this facility available for people who cannot use standard accessible toilets.

“This includes people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, as well as older people.

“These specialist facilities have more space and equipment, including a height adjustable changing bench and a hoist.”

While councillors agreed public and council staff safety was important and many backed the decision to close the toilets on that basis, debate was had on needing to address drug abuse across the borough.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Celia Dowden said: “TVBC have demonstrated a reason for closure, safety risk to the public and staff.“The closure of the toilets has not eradicated the drug problem we do need to manage the drug use in our borough. We need to work with the police and the NHS to help drug users.”

Councillor John Cockaday added: “I would rather see the money spent on a solution to the drug problem rather than demolition.”

A borough council statement read: “There was a persistent and serious drug problem in the former toilet blocks in George Yard and Borden Gates, which put public safety at risk. "This was the main reason the Community Toilet Scheme was set up, and there is no doubt it has worked as there has only been one drug-related incident among the providers of community toilets since its inception more than a year ago.”