PUBLIC toilets in rural areas of Basingstoke and Deane will be handed over to their respective communities, should they choose to accept them, the council has decided.

While some were ‘reluctant’ to relinquish control of these ‘important facilities’, council leader Cllr Ken Rhatigan said he was ‘delighted’ at the decision, describing it as ‘the right thing to do’.

At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday (March 9), members discussed the future of public toilet facilities in Kingsclere, St Mary Bourne, Overton and Whitchurch.

They approved a recommendation which will see them handed over to the parish or town councils in each area, or decommissioned should they choose not to take them on.

Explaining the move, Cllr Hayley Eachus, member for environment and enforcement, said: “The reason for this is in our 2019 resident survey, almost half of residents said public toilets were among the three least important services we provide, but I do appreciate they may be of local value.”

Council documents suggested a handover date of April 1, however Cllr Eachus clarified that this would be amended as condition surveys of the sites are ongoing.

“I know parish councils can't make any decision without condition surveys which are being carried out,” she said.

“The time limits of this report were based on having those already. Because we haven’t got those yet, this will run over and we are well aware of that and I would just like to reassure parish councils that we are not going to rush them in that regard, and appreciate they will need six to eight weeks.”

Voicing his concern at the possibility of losing these toilet facilities, Cllr John Izett (Burghclere, Highclere and St Mary Bourne) said: “I am a reluctant supporter of this, I have to say. It’s come about because of the financial pressures on us as a council and I accept we have had to make savings and this is one of the unfortunate savings.

“For people who live in the villages they are important facilities, not so much for the local residents but for all the people visiting the villages. I do hope that after the condition surveys have been received, we will find a way of being able to preserve what I think are important facilities, because they are an amenity that helps with the general wellbeing and economic vitality of these communities.”

However, Cllr Rhatigan (who also represents Kingsclere) refuted claims it was a cost-saving measure, adding: “I do not believe this has happened because of financial pressures. I believe it's the right thing to do because it gives local communities the chance to look after their own facilities.

He continued: “I have to say I am very supportive of this. The need for local management of public conveniences is needed. It will allow them to open on the weekends which is not available in Kingsclere at the moment.

“I am delighted we will have a facility that will be open more widely, more used, and will probably be much better kept if we're honest.”

Urging local wards to consider taking them on, he added: “There used to be awards for the best public toilets, I hope the four of them will fight it out for that title at some point in the future.”