Vandals win the day as Wick toilets are shut
THE long-running saga of vandalism at Highland Council's public toilets in Wick has culminated in the temporary closure of the facility.
Local councillors expressed anger at the "mindlessness of local thugs" which last week saw four nights of sustained attacks on the toilets in Whitechapel Road. Hand-dryers were smashed along with wash-hand basins, mirrors and light fittings, and even fires were set using toilet paper.
Wick and East Caithness councillor Raymond Bremner said: "The mindlessness of local thugs that seek to destroy what we are looking to improve is clearly angering the community, as is the threat that the facility will be removed.
"The Highland amenities officer wrote to us stating that the amenity had to be immediately shut because of a purposely lit fire, with melted plastic everywhere. It's not just councillors that have to act – the community has to act.
"Someone out there, including the peers and families of the perpetrators, knows who they are and should report them."
He went on to say that he and his fellow councillors had been looking at ways to "try and tackle the vandalism problem" while the area it sits within is earmarked for upgrading.
Councillor Nicola Sinclair, who also represents Wick and East Caithness, said the toilets have been "closed temporarily to repair the extensive damage done by vandals and make the facility safe again".
Highland Council was asked to clarify when the toilets are expected to open again but no response was forthcoming at the time of going to press.
Councillor Sinclair added: "Local members are discussing with officers how we can keep the toilets open and reduce the chance of further vandalism.
"The planned refurbishment is on hold while we look for a solution, but ultimately we'll do all we can to keep the facility open to the public."
The local councillors say they are committed to a planned renovation of the Whitechapel Road toilets as part of a regeneration scheme for the riverside car-park area.
Councillor Bremner said that the argument to spend a lot of money on this building is "becoming increasingly difficult while this level of vandalism continues".
He said: "There isn't an ability to police these toilets 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
"There isn't the money to pay an attendant for the period of time that the public would perhaps wish them to be open."
He said that if the public understood the true costs of repairs they would probably just "close them, lock them up and throw away the key".
He added: "We are trying to ensure that doesn't happen.
"We have committed to renovating them and installing CCTV to monitor the external area – both with static cameras and pan-and-zoom cameras.
"That will go some way to policing the external area of the toilets. For the benefit of everyone who wants to retain this convenience we need the whole community on board."
Councillor Bremner said that at a recent community council meeting in Wick a police representative had talked about the CCTV cameras being centrally monitored and that a number of ideas are being discussed.
Proposals include introducing charges for using the facility; sensor-activated lighting; upgraded lighting that has the area well lit; locking the facility out of hours but supported with a hotel comfort scheme; more regular policing of the area; and the redesign of the toilets with a communal entrance and cameras installed.
The councillor acknowledged that there is a "serious danger" the facility will be lost, and said suggestions from the public on the matter are welcome.
"Councillors are awaiting a report in respect of the building and potential options. On receipt of the report we will be meeting to discuss the issue in the immediate future."