A POPULAR tourist spot could once again lose its much-used public toilets in a council cost-cutting drive.
Concerns are growing about the facilities in Cresswell following a review of services by Northumberland County Council.
The toilets were closed by the former Castle Morpeth Council in April 2002 to save cash, but the move sparked fury from locals.
After a 15-month campaign a deal was struck to re-open the facilities when the parish council agreed to meet cleaning and day-to-day running costs.
But now the toilets are again under threat as the county council, which took over the former borough authority’s share of the cost, looks to off-load services to smaller authorities.
Cresswell Parish Council Chairman Jean Gardner said: “It is an ongoing issue and we are still in discussions as to whether the county council will pay for the toilets.
“We are waiting to find out whether the Cresswell toilets are on a list of strategic tourist toilets, which would mean the county council would take over the running of them.
“Unfortunately, we are at the stage where we can no longer afford to pay for them from our precept. We are going to have to start paying for other things that we don’t pay for now. The bus shelters, the provision of litter bins, the seats and picnic tables — we are now responsible for all of those services, or we will be from next April.
“At the moment just about everything is spent on the toilets and the costs are increasing, even just the cost of toilet roll.”
Coun Gardner said the toilets are only used by tourists, cyclists and walkers, providing a vital service along the coastal route.
Villagers fear that if no such facility is available many visitors will be caught short and it could lead to urinating in the open.
“The toilets are used by tourists, nobody from Cresswell goes there to go to the toilet. Why would they?” said Coun Gardner.
“The toilets were closed once before by Castle Morpeth Council, but because of anti-social behaviour, with visitors using other places for toilets, the council made a decision to get them opened again and came to an agreement to pay part of the costs and for the parish to pay part.
“We couldn’t pay for them on our own and if they close we would expect the same behaviour as last time.
“People do come here looking for a toilet, thinking there should be one, and if the public toilets close Cresswell hasn’t got anywhere else for them to use. Some villages have a pub or some other building where tourists can find a toilet, but there is nowhere in Cresswell at all.”
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She added: “A lot of people come here as a toilet stop because the next toilets up the coast aren’t until Druridge Bay Country Park, which is quite a way if you need the toilet.
“We have to wait and see what the county council comes up with, then we will have to put it to the village as to what people want us to do, but it looks as if the toilets would have to be closed if the county council doesn’t accept then as strategic for tourism.
“If they are not strategic for tourism, I don’t know where there are any that would be.”
County councillor Milburn Douglas agrees the toilets are needed.
“It is nice to think that we have public toilets in that area because a lot of people do come through there. It’s a beautiful place and if they didn’t have toilets there I would hate to think what people would do because there isn’t a pub or anywhere else for them,” he said.
“It would be a very long stretch of coastline without toilets if these facilities weren’t there. They are very important and we have to recognise that as a county council, even though the budget is tight.”
Northumberland County Council Leader Jeff Reid said the issue is still under review.
He said: “We are reaching the end of our meetings with the 158 different parish and town councils across the country.
“We will have a number of further conversations with some of these councils about anomalies in their parishes and the Cresswell toilet is one of a number of issues still to resolve.
“This is still under review, but we hope to reach a conclusion in plenty of time to allow the parish council to adjust its precept for next year’s budget.”