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New fees for parking - and no toilets for visitors in Dingwall

By Hector MacKenzie and Nicole Webber

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DREAMS of Dingwall becoming a visitor hotspot could disappear if the town’s only public toilets are closed and free car parking scrapped.

Fears are being raised that the impact of moneysaving moves could sink hopes of the county town benefiting from bus tours from Invergordon’s multimillion-pound cruise line trade.

Doubts over the future of toilets at Ormisdale Place and the prospect of parking charges being introduced emerged in Highland Council budget proposals.

Andrew Macivor of Dingwall Community Council warned: "If these toilets are closed, are they all supposed to go to the toilets at Tesco.

He added: "And we don’t have a traffic management problem in Dingwall just now but if you start charging for parking, you soon will have.

"It could be the death knell for Dingwall."

The council has calculated that closing the toilets in Dingwall could save almost £15,000. Any proposals would go out to public consultation with one possibility being another community group taking them over.

Barry Wilson, proprietor of Dingwall High Street’s Spar shopsaid: "It feels like we are pushing people towards Tesco.

"It seems everything leads there, from road improvements to parking charges, making it harder for the High Street. If they aren’t careful they won’t have a High Street at all."

The Ormisdale Place toilets are listed in Highland Council’s proposed budget savings plans along with the need to "rationalise" 29 of the 96 public toilets run by the council.

Toilets in Avoch, Portmahomack, Fortrose, Rosemarkie and Kinlochewe are also under threat and 10 toilets across the county that are deemed busy enough to remain may face charges of 50p for use.

SNP ward councillor Graham Mackenzie said: "Last week we were celebrating new stops from buses from the cruise ships.

"We were hoping that they would come to the museum, see the monument and look round town.

"It seems odd to be shutting the only toilets while we expect the demand to increase."

He called on people to voice their concerns.

Independent ward councillor and budget leader Alister Mackinnon does not think the future of the toilets is so bleak: "They are well used but there has been one or two issues with vandalism. These lists are misleading – it is not a proposal to get rid of them but to charge for it or to pass it over to the community like they do in Kyle of Lochalsh.

"It would work well as part of the North Coast 500 and could even start to make money after an initial set up."

He said: "We have to prioritise and I think one way to do this is to charge, make money and employ people."

David Richardson, Highland manager of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "At a time when many high street businesses are fighting for survival in the face of increased competition from national supermarkets, discount stores and online shopping, it seems very strange that Highland Council is knowingly making life even more difficult for them by introducing parking charges.

"The threat to Dingwall’s only public toilet at a time of increased interest in the town from cruise ship businesses only compounds the problem.

"The council might say that it is short of funds, but charging for parking and closing public toilets is merely going to drive even more shoppers towards Tesco and the other stores in Dingwall and Inverness that provide free parking and free toilets, to the detriment of small businesses and local economies.

"A healthy Dingwall economy depends on us all keeping trade local."

But Dingwall and Seaforth ward councillor Angela MacLean said: "There were no easy choices to be made to balance the budget and Highland Council has had to look at charging for some of the services that were previously free or at stopping them completely. There will be discussions with communities over the coming months to look at ways for local groups to provide some of these services."

Dingwall-based MSP Kate Forbes MSP said the Scottish Government budget represented an increase of over two per cent. She said: "It is then for councils to make decisions on how to spend that money.

"The independent-led Highland Council has voted to charge for parking and toilets with the support of all other councillors, except the SNP who did not agree with Highland Council’s administrations’ decisions.

"Whilst this is very much a decision for Highland Council to make, I do think it is critical that there are toilets and parking available to locals. I’d be deeply concerned if the costs of administering charging systems outweighed any financial benefit."

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