The future of the public toilets at Burlington Chine to the north of Swanage Bay is up for discussion after councillors heard that it will cost thousands of pounds to repair a sewage pipe.
At the Swanage Town Council meeting on Monday 4th April 2022, a report was presented that detailed the logistical problems of pumping sewage up from the loos to the main sewage system at Burlington Road – a distance of 110 metres up the cliff from the beach.
The Burlington Chine toilets were acquired by the former urban district council from Brigadier Montague Jones in February 1966
In both 2020 and 2021 it’s understood that ground movement of the cliff caused the sewage pipe to fracture, resulting in unpleasant leaks and the subsequent temporary closure of the toilets, while short term repairs took place.
A specialist contractor was brought in by the town council to find a long term solution to the problem. The recommendation was to reline the existing pipe with a specialist woven felt liner at a cost of around £30,000.
Swanage Town Council has budgeted for the repair but the report says:
“However, the work has not been undertaken due to continued ground instability which has led to questions around whether this spending represents best value.”
The cliff above the toilet block shows signs of movement
Other future costs
There are other future costs too. The pump that moves the sewage from a tank, under high pressure up to the road, is 17 years old and it’s estimated that it will need replacing in the next five to 10 years at a cost of £7,500. Future pump servicing costs will be around £1,500 a year.
The council has also considered the cost of maintaining the toilet block and says that necessary work will be in the region of £12,000 for 2021 to 2025 and a further £96,000 from 2025 to 2046. There’s also the annual cost of cleaning to be considered.
The beach hut users and customers of the Down the Beach café, which has reopened for summer 2022, rely on the Burlington Chine toilets
Beach hut owners argued to save the toilets
At the council meeting, a number of beach hut owners turned up to put their case for keeping the toilets open.
Keith Fisher who owns the land and a number of beach huts at Burlington Chine explained that the recent ground movement had been caused by a water leak. He said:
“Wessex Water located a major leak to the mains in Burlington Road and their data showed it had likely been leaking for two years. This was without doubt the root cause of the landslips at the Chine area and once this was repaired, the cliff became dry within three days.”
The path down to the beach toilets from Burlington Road
Prevent people defecating in the bushes
Keith Fisher added that historically the toilets had been provided by the previous landowner, Brigadier Montague Jones to prevent people defecating in the bushes. He asked councillors to be aware of all the facts:
“It is not just the businesses and private hut owners who use this important facility but many locals, visitors and holiday makers. Do be aware of the huge sums which filter into the local economy from these people…
“Please think again and of the consequences to Swanage if there are no longer toilet facilities beyond Battlegate to the north. Unless you visit North Beach regularly you can not imagine how many people are there in the summer months.”
Beautiful even on a dull day, North Beach is very popular in the summer
“Saddened and upset”
Beach hut owner, Julie Meacham said:
“I am saddened and upset to hear that the toilets could be closed. The thought that someone would have to wait until they got to Shore Road to go to the loo, could cause a lot of distress, especially for anyone with health or mobility issues.”
“Not just for beach hut owners”
Another resident who has owned a beach hut at Burlington Chine since 1982, Nicky Benbow added:
“People won’t stop using the beach and they will need to go to the toilet. We’re really proud of our Blue Flag (that denotes good water quality) and want to keep it!
“These are the first toilets that you reach on the South West Coast Path from the Studland direction. The outdoor company, Land and Wave also regularly bring groups of schoolchildren to this end of the beach and that needs to be considered – it’s not just for beach hut owners – there’s lots more going on.”
The concrete roof and new beach huts were built above the loos in 2004 to help stabilise the cliff
Council business back in 2004
First to speak in the council debate was councillor Gary Suttle. He recalled that this issue had been a matter of discussion for the council 18 years ago in 2004, when part of the cliff had fallen on the roof of the toilet block.
The roof was subsequently replaced with a concrete one and Keith Fisher donated a strip of land to the town council so that beach huts could be built above the block to help stabilise the cliff and to cover the cost of the work.
Councillor Gary Suttle said:
“This is a service to the community. For me, I understand it’s a nuisance but there’s lots of things that are a nuisance and need maintenance.
“We’ve made an assurance to the beach hut owners to provide this facility and we should make good this promise. Please provide this service. Do not close the toilets.”
“We need to get a fuller picture”
Councillor Mike Bonfield added:
“Let’s find out more about what needs to be done and what the legal situation is. There cannot just be a decision to close the toilets. We need to get a fuller picture.”
Councillor Chris Morton said:
“I may be the new boy on the block but a final decision needs to be an informed decision.”
Councillor John Bishop said that he wanted to avoid discussing the matter at a later date to only go over the same ground. He asked:
“Is there a suggestion that we should ask the beach hut owners to put in 50 percent of the cost?”
“I see it as a service and this is what we do as a council”
Councillor Gary Suttle concluded:
“You either believe that you need to maintain the toilet and it will cost, or you close them. I suggest we do all we can to keep them open during 2022 and then look to do the work over the winter. I see it as a service and this is what we do as a council.”
The council says that work is necessary to bring the toilets up to modern day standards
Final decision delayed
It was then agreed and voted for unanimously to open the toilets for the 2022 season and for the council to do its best to keep them open.
The council would then make a final decision on the long term future of the toilets at another meeting, once all the facts were known including the legal situation, and where consideration would be given to the views of all the stakeholders.
Beach hut owners relieved
After the meeting, the beach hut owners said they were relieved that the council hadn’t chosen to close the toilets immediately and they would offer to work with the council and help in any way to keep the loos open, not just for them, but for everyone.