Following a multi-agency meeting with officers from the council and the police, South Hams District Council have confirmed that whilst the drug problem in Totnes has not been solved, they do believe that they can lower the risk posed to the public and therefore the toilets will reopen. But the council have issued a stark warning to the public who use them.
Isabel Blake, a senior officer at the council said: "Temporary closure of the toilets over Christmas was the only way to ensure public safety. The drug problem in Totnes has not gone away and we will check the facilities regularly, but please be vigilant when using the public toilets. Have a good look around when you enter and check the toilet roll dispenser for used needles. You can report any problems to us as soon as you can using this phone number 01803 861410.
"This unfortunate situation means that while the problem continues you cannot rely on them always being open. Drug use in the toilets can happen at any time of the day and the individuals involved do not always wait for the facility to be empty before they go in.
"We will continue to work closely with the police and the support agencies to help the individuals involved, but while they continue to abuse the facilities in Totnes, we may have to close them without notice until we can attend, clean them and make them safe. We do this for your safety. We will continue to look at constructive ways that really work so that we can design out drug abuse in our toilets.
The council follows a strict procedure for keeping the toilets clean and the public safe. When an incident of misuse is reported, the first action the council takes is to close the facility until a cleansing team is available.
When the team arrive at the facility they must take their time, they cannot charge straight in and start cleaning. This is to prevent any accidents which would put their health at risk. Some offenders have been known to leave needles in locations which could cause harm.
Sometimes the offenders will flush their needles, drink cans and drug paraphernalia down the toilet or hide them in the cisterns and even in toilet rolls. This can cause damage which means that the facility needs more than just a clean and we may have to keep it closed for longer to enable it to be repaired and safely cleansed.
The council will continue to work with the police to look at ways that the toilets can be altered to minimise the locations where needles can be hidden, and look at safe disposal measures. We will also continue to support the work of RISE Addaction to help the individuals with their habit.
James Kershaw, a council officer who specialise in Environment Health said: "For data protection reasons I cannot go into the details of the individuals who have been causing these latest problems, but I would like to reassure the residents of Totnes that we are doing everything in our power, along with the police and other agencies to support the individuals concerned. However, sometimes further action is required where our efforts are rejected. We cannot let the risk to public health, nor the serious anti-social behaviour go on indefinitely."
"I would like to reiterate the messages we put out last week, we are extremely sorry that we had to close the toilets and we apologise for any distress that this may have caused. However, it was an operational decision to close the toilets over the Christmas period because they were a risk to public health, which could not be managed safely."
Sergeant Tim Perrin of Devon and Cornwall Police said: "Like everybody else we want to see all of our public toilets open. We are aware that the problems in the toilets are caused by a small number of individuals. We are working with them to support them off the streets and away from drug addiction. Where individuals do not engage we will regrettably need to take enforcement action, if this means the risk of an injury to the young and other toilet users is reduced. We will continue to work with South Hams District Council to provide advice on reducing the problems in the toilets."
All toilets in Totnes will be reopened between 08:00 and 17:00 Monday to Friday and on Market days, this will be kept under review and if the risk allows a return the original opening times.
If you come across a facility which has been misused please report it urgently to: 01803 861410
If you know someone who needs help please contact: RISE:Addaction 0300 303 3384 who are hosting support meetings on a Thursday at the Mansion, Fore Street, Totnes.
Or you can report other drug related problems to the police : 101 or firstname.lastname@example.org