Diss town council faces tough decisions over streetlights and toilets

A map of Diss showing the streetlights listed as provisionally being needed (green) and not needed (red). South Norfolk Council.
A map of Diss showing the streetlights listed as provisionally being needed (green) and not needed (red). South Norfolk Council.

The Mayor of Diss has spoken about the difficult decisions facing the town council after it set up a special task group to look into the future of the town’s streetlights and public toilets.

Mayor Trevor Wenman, who is on both groups, said the town council will “do all it can” despite increasing budget pressures, limited staff numbers and a short time frame.

Diss, Norfolk. Diss Town Mayor Councillor Trevor Wenman.' 'Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography

Diss, Norfolk. Diss Town Mayor Councillor Trevor Wenman.' 'Picture: Mark Bullimore Photography

The mayor’s comments come after the town council was advised by South Norfolk Council that it needs to save costs on both street lighting and on the provision of the public toilets at Mere’s mouth.

At a recent full town council meeting, councillors noted the “disconcerting amount of services being passed over by South Norfolk Council and the short timetable by which decisions have been required, particularly given the complexity of the issues”.

“The truth is that we could wash our hands of both decisions and leave them with the district council,” said Mr Wenman.

“But we do not feel this is the right thing to do, which is why we have set up the task groups to look into the options.

Mere's Mouth toilets

Mere's Mouth toilets

“In principle, we have agreed to take over responsibility of the lighting in the town and investigate options for the toilets. Both are major procurements for a small town council.”

The town council was advised by the district council that it needed to decommission a total of 63 per cent of the region’s streetlights in July last year.

Following a series of consultations, South Norfolk Council proposed in January to reduce street lighting in Diss by 37 per cent, from 235 to 148.

It says 148 need to be retained for reasons of crime prevention, road safety and vulnerability, after further talks with police.

The town council task group is now looking to decide which of the 87 it would like to keep – and the costs and practicalities involved in taking over full responsibility.

“Following the district councils’s decision about streetlighting last year, we received further information on which ones they thought needed to stay and which needed to go, in January this year,” said Mr Wenman.

“We then had until mid March to make a decision whether to leave them with the district council and face a reduction in the number of lights, or take them over.

“We now have until May to make this decision with a lot of work to do in the meantime, balanced against what is possible financially and with a staff of 13, compared with around 300 at the district council.”

Meanwhile, plans for a £80,000 refurbishment by South Norfolk Council of the public toilets at Mere’s mouth have also been dropped.

Both decisions follow cuts by central government to district council grants, which are due to be reduced to zero by 2020.

The district council has no obligation to provide public toilets.

With regard to lighting, Mr Wenman pointed out that, if the district council was to retain responsibility for street lighting, then it would lead to an increase in the council tax precept from South Norfolk Council.

But he added: “The same, of course, would be true for us, which is why we want to carefully consider the best way forward.

“Either way, it will be the same people – the tax payer – paying the bills, so we want to do what is best for the people of Diss.”