THOUSANDS of Blaenau Gwent residents and business owners have signed a petition calling for the reopening of the borough’s public toilets.

Business owners who believe they are already being unfairly hit by Blaenau Gwent council’s cuts are fighting back with a borough-wide petition led by the leader of the council’s independent group, John Hopkins.

The petition has more than 5,600 signatures so far.

The council says the costs of running the public toilets are around £80,000 a year. They have an agreement with traders, providing funding directly to traders to open their toilets to the public, but residents say the scheme simply isn’t working.

Business owners from across the borough say they pay some of the highest business rates in Wales while struggling to keep their shops and cafes open.

Now, they say the closure of the borough’s public toilets means a lot of their regular customers have stopped coming into the town centres

Samantha Lewis has owned the Crossing Cafe in Ebbw Vale for 18 years. She said: “A lot of our regulars are older people, people with babies and people with disabilities.

“They are the people we rely on for our incomes, yet I am losing money every week as they have stopped coming in since the toilet closures. You can’t expect a mum and baby to use the toilets in Wetherspoons – and you can’t expect an elderly person to walk all the way to McDonalds or KFC to use the loo.”

Remo Basini's family have owned the fish and chip shop on the high street for 60 years. He said: "It's terrible - we aren't getting the older customers anymore as they have stopped coming to town.

"They are choosing to stay at home or go to the big out of town supermarkets where they know the can access the toilets. Business is down by at least 10 per cent, it's going to cost us thousands a year."

Cllr John Hopkins, who is calling for both the toilets and Blaina Civic Amenity site to be reopened, told the Argus: “Money is available through council reserves and the VSS grant money to cover the costs.

“If you’ll excuse the pun, people are getting desperate. People feel very strongly about this – it’s not good for anyone, residents, visitors or business owners. It’s not good for Blaenau Gwent.”

A council spokeswoman said:”The overall financial cutback for this year was approximately £10 million and a number of difficult decisions were made, many of which would not have been made if we had not faced the scale of financial challenge we did.

“All councils are expected to maintain an appropriate level of reserves and not to use them to fund day to day costs for services.

“We do understand the strength of feeling regarding the public toilets; and that’s why we have been working hard to ensure there are alternative arrangements available, supported by funding from the Welsh Government to provide these alternatives.

The spokeswoman added the council currently has no plans to re-open the waste site.