One of the public toilets that the West End Extra found closed this week
Published: 22 March, 2013
by WILLIAM McLENNAN
PUBLIC toilets have been closed across Westminster leading to people urinating in the street while a dispute between the council and a company owned by Tory party donor Lord Ashcroft continues.
The West End Extra understands the council is planning to bring in temporary toilets until a legal row with its private contractor is resolved.
The city council privatised its public toilets last year, contracting Carlisle Cleaning Services with a 10-year deal.
The council said it was “expecting the company to abide by the terms of its lease” but a Carlisle spokesman said the toilets were open “during the agreed hours”.
The gates of four public toilets were locked shut when the West End Extra visited on Monday and Tuesday and park regulars said some have been closed for weeks.
Lydia Manda, who runs a café next to the St John’s Wood Gardens park, said: “It’s disgusting, it stinks.
“People are going behind the toilets and there’s the smell of urine there now.
“There’s a playground just behind, the kids are playing and there’s human urine, it’s unhygienic. People in the park are so angry, but they can’t do anything about it.”
In January last year, the council announced its contract with Carlisle would include “at least 50 per cent of the sites being free for all users” and would “safeguard” public toilets from closure.
Carlisle is part of the Impellam Group owned by the billionaire and former Conservative Party treasurer Lord Ashcroft.
Zbigniew Palgan, who lives in Luxborough Tower overlooking Paddington Street Gardens, where the toilets have also closed (picture page 1), said: “They need to be open, otherwise people will go in the park. There are many workers, taxi drivers, people who are passing by and many people bring their kids to the park so we’d like to see it reopen.”
A park warden, who did not wish to be named, said he had seen people urinating in the bushes since the toilet closed around three weeks ago.
He added: “They’ve closed down – they’re no more. In Baker Street, you have to pay 50p.”
Ed Argar, Westminster Council’s cabinet member for city management, said: “Our main priority is to ensure that public loos are kept open across the city.
“To protect the interest of council taxpayers we expect Carlisle to abide by the terms of their lease.
“The dispute between the city council and Carlisle regarding the lease of the city’s loos, a lease they signed in 2012, is now in the hands of the council’s lawyers who are working hard to resolve the issue as swiftly as the legal process allows.”
Paul Dimoldenberg, Labour group leader, said: “We call on Westminster Council to bring these toilets back in to public control urgently so that residents, visitors, shoppers, tourists and cab drivers can get their free public toilets service back.”
The West End Extra found that public toilets were closed at Paddington Street Gardens on Monday at 1pm and Tuesday at 2pm. St John’s Wood Church Gardens was found to be closed on Tuesday at 3pm.
James Street and Broadwick Street were also found to be closed at 1pm on Monday.
Toilets were reportedly closed at Church Street and Westbourne Grove.
A statement from the company said: “Claims in the press that Carlisle Support Services has been closing public conveniences as a part a dispute with Westminster City Council are completely false. Toilets are open during the agreed opening hours.
“For operational reasons, there are times when some locations are closed for short periods. Two other locations are currently closed; one following vandalism, and one by a water leak. Both of these will reopen as soon as remedial work is completed.”
Carlisle did not respond to a request to clarify “the agreed opening hours” and the two locations that are closed for maintenance.