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Highgate public toilet officer fears job loss as village fights proposed loo closure

PUBLISHED: 11:30 18 February 2016

Members of the Highgate Society, from left Christina Nolan, Michael Hammerson, Catherine Budgett-Meakin, Ian Henghes, chairwoman Jan Morgan, and Andrew Sulston. Picture: Polly Hancock

Members of the Highgate Society, from left Christina Nolan, Michael Hammerson, Catherine Budgett-Meakin, Ian Henghes, chairwoman Jan Morgan, and Andrew Sulston. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

A toilet attendant who fears she could lose her job after 10 years is one of 1,000 people fighting the proposed closure of Highgate Village’s public facilities.

Dorcas Artahur, facility officer at the Pond Square public toilets. Picture: Polly HancockDorcas Artahur, facility officer at the Pond Square public toilets. Picture: Polly Hancock

Dorcas Artahur, 43, is a familiar face in Pond Square, and greets almost everyone who passes by the public toilets where she works four days a week.

But her job with contractor Careline is under threat, as Camden Council consults on closing three of the borough’s public lavatories in: Pond Square; South End Green, in Hampstead; and in West End Lane, in West Hampstead.

“They have to keep it if they can,” said mum-of-three Ms Artahur, of south London. “If they close it, it will stink around here. People will still go to the toilet.”

Ms Artahur, who has worked at the toilets since they re-opened in 2006 after a year-long closure, added: “If they close it, and if they can’t find me something else, I don’t know what will happen.

Public toilets in Pond Square, Highgate. Picture: Polly HancockPublic toilets in Pond Square, Highgate. Picture: Polly Hancock

“There’s no jobs anymore today. I am worried, but I believe in God. Maybe something good will happen again.”

Council representatives pledged that the toilets will not close if they cannot come up with a viable alternative at two public meetings on Thursday and Saturday at the Highgate Society, in South Grove, which is leading the campaign to keep the toilets open.

But it also admitted that it has to reduce its public toilets budget by £260,000.

Suggestions for ways to keep the lavatories open ranged from asking local businesses to sponsor cubicles, to finding a business to rent out half the building, which would, in theory, pay for the upkeep of toilets in the other half.

Camden Council, which has no legal obligation to provide public toilets, is also encouraging local businesses to offer up their facilities for public use. So far, only Pedro’s Cafe in Kentish Town Road, Kentish Town, has joined the scheme.

Village vet Allan Rapley, whose petition to save the toilets has roughly 1,000 signatures, said: “People come up here safe in the knowledge that there’s a toilet here, for men with prostate problems, for pregnant women, for post-menopausal women, for children. I think most people agree they shouldn’t close, and would be happy to see more toilets, rather than less.”

Lawyer Andrew Sulston, who has set up the Pond Square Toilets Action Group within the Highgate Society, said the public meetings were “positive,” and that the council seem to be listening to people’s concerns.

He added: “The toilets are used 88,000 times a year, and that’s not a surprise because it’s a community that is very distinct.

“What really came out of the meetings was that decent toilet provision is very important.”

In a formal response, the Highgate Society said the toilets are used by bus drivers who terminate the 271 and 214 buses in the village, minicab drivers at Pond Square firm, AP Cars, and tourists.

It is also calling for a longer consultation period of more than seven weeks and to postpone the proposed closure date of April 1.

Cllr Meric Apak, cabinet member for environment and sustainability, said: “We are willing to consider all options which are financially viable and offset current costs on running public toilets.”

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