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Vicar fury over council refusal to spend a penny on public loo

PUBLISHED: 20:06 23 October 2008 | UPDATED: 13:43 05 October 2010

A VICAR is fed up with Town Hall bureaucrats who have done nothing to prevent drug users, tramps and yobs using his churchyard in London's East End as a disgusting public toilet. He has called on Tower Hamlets council to get its act together

By Ted Jeory

A VICAR is fed up with Town Hall bureaucrats who have done nothing to prevent drug users, tramps and other yobs using his churchyard as a disgusting public toilet.

The Rev Alan Green has called on Tower Hamlets council to get its act together and re-open the old public loo outside St John on Bethnal Green church in Cambridge Heath Road.

He said ever since the council closed the block 10 years ago, church cleaners have been forced to clear up urine, excrement and syringes on "an almost daily basis".

He now fears that instead of re-opening the toilet, council chiefs are now preparing to bulldoze it.

However, Tower Hamlets council said tonight that people would still be urinating in the churchyard even if the nearby toilet block was open.

The vicar's comments also came as a Parliamentary select committee said today that local councils should be forced to halt the decline of public loos and stop using disability laws as an excuse for tearing them down.

The problem is particularly acute in Bethnal Green.

Despite the area around St John's being home to two small parks-Museum Gardens and Bethnal Green Gardens, which also has sports facilities-the council does not have a single public lavatory in sight.

Because it is also opposite Bethnal Green Tube station, the churchyard is also used by late night revellers relieving themselves on their way home.

Fr Green has been trying to press the issue for 10 years. During that time he has grown increasingly frustrated by council bureaucrats shifting responsibility from one department to another and issuing a string of unfulfilled promises to act.

Almost comically, one council scheme to hide the loo block by surrounding it with a mural failed because the project ran out of cash before a fourth side could be built.

"The screens merely served to provide very private space for drug dealers to get on with their business," said Fr Green.

Only one council manager, its former environment chief Graeme Peacock, had taken a keen interest in the problem in that time, the rector added, but when he left a couple of years ago, "no one knew anything about this".

Fr Green now fears the Town Hall is preparing to bulldoze the block completely and replace it with an unpopular automatic coin-operated loo instead-one that street drinkers would not pay to use.

He said: "To have Museum Gardens, Bethnal Green Gardens, with is sports facilities, the Tube station and all the bus stops without any toilet provision is ridiculous.

"The result is that the area around the church, especially the entrances to the hall and crypt, has become the public toilet.

"It is not only street drinkers, and those on their way home after a boozy night that need to relieve themselves, but a good cross section of the general populace who use this area."

But Tower Hamlets council said a re-opened loo block would change nothing.

A spokesman said: "Although the toilet near the church has been closed for a number of years we don't feel that this is the cause of any recent anti-social behaviour in the area."

He added that they were "looking at options for the derelict toilet", but "unfortunately, there are a number of challenges that all local authorities face".

In the meantime, the council has told clergymen who to report their concerns to.

The row came as MPs on the Communities and Local Government Select Committee said "too many" councils failed to take an interest in public loos.

"We recommend that the Government imposes a duty on each local authority to develop a strategy on the provision of public toilets in their areas, which should include consultation with the local community and which should be reviewed annually," their report concluded.

The MPs added that no toilet should be closed "unless there was a strong case for it and after extensive consultation".

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