THE decision to leave west Dorset’s public toilets closed after a spate of bad weather has been widely-criticised and described as ‘mindless stupidity.’

Public toilets in Bridport, West Bay and Lyme Regis were left locked at the weekend by Dorset Councils Partnership (DCP), which includes West Dorset District Council (WDDC), due to ‘health and safety concerns’ following snow and ice.

Bridport Town Council has said it is ‘frustrated’ the toilets were closed for the entire weekend and believes the situation was avoidable.

After complaints from the town council and members of the public, a spokesman for DCP advised the town council that access to many of its facilities was ‘potentially dangerous for public and staff’ and its priority ‘is always to look after the welfare of people using our facilities, and so on health and safety concerns we did make the decision to close the toilets.’

Town council leader, Cllr Sarah Williams, said the situation was avoidable and called for local control of public toilets. Cllr Williams said: “If only DCP had contacted us on Friday, we could have gritted any icy areas, so that access wouldn’t have been a problem, and we could have unlocked the toilets for them.

“Thankfully, local businesses were very helpful over the weekend and on Saturday we made the toilets in the town hall available for public use – but a lot of people were, understandably, cross.”

Public toilets across west Dorset were affected by the DCP decision, and Cllr Williams said this ‘blanket approach’ wouldn’t be needed if the service was controlled locally. “Only two months ago we had been negotiating to take over the toilets but were stopped by a decision of the Shadow Dorset Council, which takes over from DCP in April,” said Cllr Williams. “This unfortunate incident shows that it was the wrong decision and strengthens the argument for local management. We look forward to meeting with DCP later this week to talk about emergency arrangements so that locals and visitors alike won’t inconvenienced again. The snow wasn’t that bad in Bridport and if the town council had been in control the toilets would not have been closed.”

Bridport resident Paula Searle suffers from Crohn’s disease and said leaving the toilets closed was ‘mindless stupidity.’

Ms Searle said: “For people like myself, toilets are one requirement that is a clincher for visiting anywhere. Councils need to sort their act out as things like this put people off visiting. Without visitors, there is no trade.”

Resident Nick Sawyer agreed, saying the closure was not good enough. Mr Sawyer visited West Bay on Sunday and was surprised to see the toilets closed.

“I was told the toilets were shut due to health and safety issues,” he said. “When I asked what these issues were, I was told the weather and that there were notices on all the toilet doors explaining. I checked all toilets and there were no notices on any door apart from the ones nearest the West Beach, which are shut in winter.

“The gates to the overflow car park were locked over the Christmas and New Year period, with Boxing Day being one of the busiest due to the Wallow. It seems the next thing will be the new flood defences with beaches being shut - West Bay is one of the crowns of the Jurassic Coast, but the way things are going most of the tourists will fade away, the business will suffer and some will probably shut down. Is it not time the council started to deal with these issues and save West Bay?”

A spokesman for West Dorset District Council said: "We took the decision to close the facilities due to the adverse weather conditions. This decision was made in conjunction with the Emergency Planning department and the severe warnings issued by The Met Office.

"Due to the snow, ice and freezing conditions, access to many of our public toilets was potentially dangerous for members of the public.  Our priority is always to look after the welfare of the local community and visitors using our facilities, and so on Health and Safety concerns we made the decision to close the toilets. They were re-opened on Monday after the weather warning was lifted."