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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

U-TURN expected by MEA Council on closure of Ballymena town centre public toilets

Wellington Court public toilets, Ballymena

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is understood to be considering reopening Ballymena town centre's only local authority-owned public toilet facilities, with the proposition being discussed as part of the rates setting discussions currently taking place.

The controversial decision to close the public convenience in the town, located at Wellington Court (between Church Street and Wellington Street), was taken by Council last year as part of efforts to cut costs during the rate setting process for 2023/24.

At the time, the measure was one among others implemented which included closing the public toilets in Larne, and increasing fees for the borough's Leisure Centres in Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Larne. Opening hours of the centres were also reduced. These sat alongside the introduction of charges at a number of previously free car park facilities in the borough's towns.

But to many of the borough's residents, the changes were considered as ill-thought-out and especially damaging to the fabric and finances of Mid and East Antrim's town centre businesses.

In the months following the introduction of car parking charges, the facilities that before were used to near-capacity, were used only by a handful of vehicles. Town centre workers perceived the charges as a stealth tax on them doing an honest day's work. Meanwhile town centre businesses felt the impact would see increasingly more customers turning to online shopping rather than supporting local highstreet retailers.

Mid and East Antrim Council this month confirmed it was abolishing the newly introduced car park charges that will see the facilities returning to being free to use. Although welcomed the move has led to questions being asked about the initial decision which was taken and subsequent financial impacts for ratepayers.

As for the local authority's decision to shut and lock the toilet doors at Wellington Court, Council said it was a decision which was agreed by local councillors, that would yield annual savings of around £50,000 for the cash-strapped authority.

Whereas, for some of the town's most vulnerable residents and visitors - valuable shoppers who makeup the footfall for retailers - it was a decision which impacted the elderly, the disabled and pregnant women among others, whose conditions mean they need convenient access to toilet facilities in the heart of Ballymena town centre.

Roy Smyth, owner of Outdoor Adventure, and Vice Chair of Ballymena BID has this week called for Council to reopen the town's public toilets.

Speaking to Love Ballymena, Roy said:

"Ballymena Town Centre, the largest town within the MEA Borough, has long stood as a premier shopping destination in Northern Ireland. The closure of public toilets has not gone unnoticed by our local residents and visitors.

"In a town that takes pride in being a major shopping destination, the presence of public toilets is not merely an expectation; it significantly shapes the overall experience for visitors and consumers.

"As a business owner and Vice Chair of Ballymena BID, I've engaged with concerned customers and fellow business owners, in addressing the impact of this closure. Moreover, the concerns have been actively raised at several meetings with MEABC officers and our local constituents.

"The reopening of the public toilets would undoubtedly represent a positive development.

"Ensuring accessible public bathrooms beyond the confines of shopping centres and hospitality venues is crucial for the convenience and satisfaction of both our local community and visitors to Ballymena."

Love Ballymena also spoke this week to Ballymena Councillor Rodney Quigley who said he "fully understands the frustrations of people due to the closure of Wellington Court toilets".

"There are ongoing discussions to reinstate some toilet provision subject to finalising the rate for the next financial year," continued the councillor.

"I have been contacted by many of my constituents asking for the toilets to be reopened.

"I have made representations within the chamber asking that provisions are put in place to reinstate toilet facilities at Wellington Court. It is indeed very important to me that we have such facilities in our town centre for all of our citizens".

Love Ballymena spoke to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council regarding the calls for the toilets to be reopened.

A Council spokesperson commented:

“Council continues to review service provision throughout the Borough as part of the rates-setting process. Further information will be available once that is finalised.”

Members will meet on Monday evening, 12th February to agree and finalise the borough's rates for 2024/25. It is understood the local authority is set to strike a rate of around 10% - expected to be one of the highest hikes across Northern Ireland.


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