A BRIDPORT businesswoman has forked out more than £100,000 – to let others spend a penny.
In an extraordinary gesture Caroline Parkin has bought a redundant toilet block and vows to reopen it as public loos as soon as possible.
At a hotly contested auction the owner of Leakers Bakery snapped up the old public toilets in the East Street car park from under the noses of developers.
Furious at the closure of the toilets by West Dorset District Council, she is spending £108,000 to provide relief to townspeople and residents.
Mrs Parkin stressed she is personally funding the purchase, which saw the price of the toilet block and a small parcel of land soar from its £30,000 estimate.
And she admits that she will be fortunate if she ever covers her costs.
“It is an absolute priority to get the toilets open again as soon as possible,” she said.
“You could say there is a pressing need.
“I really feel we were pushed into this by the timescale.
“The only reason I did it was that it had to be stopped at auction point or we would lose those toilets for ever.
“Sometimes you just have to go for these things.
“I just so disapproved of losing them. It’s like saying we will take your money but don’t you dare want to go to the loo here.”
The toilets were closed down and put up for sale by the district council after the new conveniences in the South Street car park were opened and the town hall refurbishment completed.
But there has been a public outcry that the loos are inadequate for a town trying to attract more visitors and shoppers from far afield.
Mrs Parkin gets the keys to the toilets early next month and now she and an informal group of contacts are looking at ‘all the options’ to open them again.
Jan Merriott, commercial surveyor for Symonds and Sampson which handled the sale, said: “I have got to admit the price went well beyond what I had thought it would go for when we set the guide price,” he said.
“Bidding was coming from across the floor up to about £80,000 then three bidders were going hell for leather.
“Developers clearly wanted it, for residential use, but Caroline wanted it more – she was absolutely determined to get it. It is a unique and quirky lot and people love that, especially in Bridport.
Mrs Parkin has been praised for her action by local councillors.
Ros Kayes said it was ‘a brilliant outcome.’ “I am very grateful that someone from the community has come forward to help Bridport provide a solution to this situation.
“Now councillors need to support those involved in the way forward – which I look forward to being able to do.”
Coun Karl Wallace, who was also bidding at the Axminster auction said: “Well done, Caroline.
“But I am ashamed and disgusted that West Dorset District Council disposed of these public toilets when this is a necessary service.”
In a statement, Bridport Town Council said that it had agreed to look at options for a community toilet scheme and had also asked that one of the options was to find out if there was enough support for a community-run scheme.
Town clerk Bob Gillis said: “At this early stage, the town council has not heard formally from the new owners but I am sure members would be very interested in hearing what their plans are for the building.”
Robert Gould, leader of West Dorset District Council, said: “We are facing an incredibly difficult financial climate at the moment so it is always good when things sell for more than was anticipated.
“It all helps us protect services to the public and keep our council tax amongst the lowest in the country.
“It is expected that the sale will be completed on November 8.”