More than a hundred local residents turned out for a meeting about the toilets at Burlington Chine in Swanage, after inaccurate rumours circulated on social media that there was a plan to permanently close the facility.
So many flocked to the meeting at All Saints Church on Wednesday 7th August 2022 that there was a queue to get in and it had to be moved from a side room into the main church.
A full house at All Saints Church
Leak-prone sewage pipe
The public consultation, chaired by councillor Mike Bonfield, was to make local residents aware of the work that was required at the Burlington Chine toilets to fix the leak-prone sewage pipe, the thousands of pounds it was going to cost, and to highlight the risk that if the pipe broke again, taxpayers’ money would literally go down the pan.
The Burlington Chine toilets are at the bottom of the cliff by the beach and the sewage from the toilets has to be pumped under pressure, 110 metres up the cliff through a pipe to the mains drainage system in Burlington Road.
In 2021 the pipe broke due to the movement of the cliff and a temporary repair was done to patch the pipe.
The toilet block at Burlington Chine was gifted to Swanage Urban District Council by Brigadier Montague Jones in 1968 and consequently transfererd after local governmnet reorganisation to Swanage Town Council in 1974
£33,000 to re-line the pipe and £7,500 for a new pump
Now the question facing the council is whether spending £33,000 to re-line the pipe and £7,500 for a new pump is a good use of taxpayers money, especially as no contractor, so far, will offer the council a guarantee that the pipe won’t break again because of the instability of the cliff.
Opening the meeting, councillor Mike Bonfield said:
“We are all agreed about the benefit the toilets bring but we are facing a major shared problem. For every person here saying we should do the work, there may be two other residents who say this is a waste of money. So as a council we have to weigh up the options.
“We’re not questioning the investment but the risk to the investment. The pipe could fail just weeks or months after the work has been done, because of the location.”
Specialist drainage contractors
Swanage Town Council operations manager Gail Perceival then explained the background to the issue and the results of the investigative work into the conundrum by specialist drainage contractors.
Having explored all options, it was concluded that re-lining the pipe run with a specialist woven-felt liner was the most sensible option and this may also help stabilise the existing, brittle PVC pipe.
The public footpath down to Burlington Chine and the toilets
Pumped up by false belief
The meeting was then opened up to the public for questions and it was apparent that many were pumped up by false belief that the council actively wanted to close the toilets.
One of the first to speak was Keith Fisher who owns Burlington Chine and rents out lots of the beach huts. He said:
“I want to dispel the myth that these toilets are just for the hut people – they are used by everyone who uses the beach. I’m heartened to hear that councillors don’t want to close them. If they were closed it doesn’t bear thinking about what would happen and where people would go instead.”
He went on to say that the cost should be added to the council precept, which is the money that residents pay as part of their council tax. In the meeting there were lots of beach hut owners and among them there was a strong feeling that they shouldn’t pay.
Many beach hut owners made it clear they were not willing to pay for the facilities
Inconvenience to beach hut owners
A beach hut along North Beach that was up for sale for £85,000, has recently been sold. The loss of the toilets would reduce the desirability of the huts and also impact the amount that could be charged to rent them out, which is in the ballpark of £1,000 to £2,000 per hut annually.
One speaker said:
“It would be inequitable for the cost to fall onto one group of people.”
“I would be happy for the money to be put on my rates to pay for this.”
For the financial year 2022/3 Swanage Town Council increased its bill to residents by nine percent.
A Herston resident to the west of Swanage said:
“We are one town and we need all the facilities – we are Swanage as a whole, whether we are at one end of the town or the other.”
Lindsay Bish, general manager of The Grand hotel, that is near to the toilets said:
“It’s all about tourism for us. We are open 365 days a year and we don’t want to become a toilet!”
She added that she thought that the cost to repair the toilets wasn’t very much.
The beach huts above the toilets were built in 2005 to pay for the new concrete roof following a landslip
10p to pee
Ideas to fund the cost included asking Wessex Water to contribute, charging 10p a visit for the use of the toilets, converting half the toilet block into a beach hut, and one man in the meeting even offered to buy a bit of council land to the side of the toilets for £33,000 to cover the council’s outlay.
Councillor Gary Suttle, displaying his years of experience in local politics said that while it was right to look at the costs, that the toilets were part of the local infrastructure and should remain as a local facility. He said:
“I hope my colleagues will support the cost of these toilets. To close them would cause many more problems. I will support the measures to keep them open!”
His words were warmly greeted by the crowd.
“We have to do our due diligence”
After nearly two hours of discussing toilets and sewage waste pipes, councillor Mike Bonfield brought the meeting to an end, with many locals relieved that there was no plan to close the toilets. Mike said:
“We have to explore all the options – we have to do our due diligence.”
A report will now go to a future Swanage Town Council meeting and a decision whether to risk spending the money on the re-lining of the pipe and a new pump, will be voted on at the meeting by the elected councillors.