What difference do public toilets make?
The first public toilets were introduced in 1852 and some of the finest surviving architectural examples date from this Victorian heyday. However, while the Public Health Act 1936 gives local authorities power to provide public toilets, it imposes no duty to do so, and this lack of compulsion, together with a perception of nuisance associated with them, has resulted in a steady decline in the provision of public toilets in recent years.
Going to the toilet is something everyone does, every day. However, what happens when you leave the house and you hear the call of nature? You can’t rush home every few hours, so you are left relying on public toilets. They are a vital part of our everyday lives and yet they’re often overlooked, neglected, and abandoned.
What does the Government say?
The UK Government defines several needs for public toilets:
- Public toilets stop people from fouling the streets. The National Organisation of Residents’ Association (NORA) described people fouling the streets as “appalling, it is disgusting and if you are a resident affected by it, it ruins your life…”. This is something we can all agree with!
- For certain groups in society, public toilets are key in enabling them to leave the house and visit public spaces. Older people, disabled people, young children, tourists, and many other groups all rely on public toilets and a lack of them restricts some groups from visiting at all.
“Help the Aged’s paper “Nowhere to Go” highlights the social cost to older people of the decrease in public toilets: Twelve per cent. of older people (1.2 million) feel trapped in their own home, 13 per cent. of older people (1.26 million) do not go out more than once a week and about 100,000 never go out. Our evidence suggests that lack of public toilets is a significant contributory factor in the isolation of older people, and the situation will worsen as toilet provision continues to decline.”1
- Tourism is a direct benefit of providing adequate, and even pleasant public toilets. There are multiple articles scattered across the internet, indicating the nicest public toilets for use in the UK, and the ‘Loo of the Year’ award exists to encourage the provision of appropriate facilities.
“You cannot cost it simply on what the loo paper and bricks might end up costing, you have got to see it as part of a broader context of a neighbourhood that is supporting and enabling its members to take part and get out and about.”1
Who needs public toilets?
Public toilets provide a port in a storm to a variety of different groups including pregnant women, disabled people, anxiety sufferers, young children and babies and many more. They’re a vital part of our everyday lives and yet we still look at them with distaste. In recent years, public toilets closing has become an issue in the country and has not improved their image. In order to change the outlook of public toilets, local councils need to focus on them.2
In addition to the above, many homeless people see public toilets as there only means of maintaining personal hygiene. For a lot of local councils, homelessness can be a real issue in public toilets, with many using them for drug taking and sleeping. However, that doesn’t mean that this group should be discounted as they’re still key users, and access to these provisions can be a factor in helping homeless people off the streets.
Many councils still take great pride in their public toilet provisions and recognise the benefits of having appropriate facilities for their communities, but the decline in public toilets is still high.
Why should we focus on public toilets?
Economic issues and the changing nature of the high street has driven many Local Authorities to close toilets. Instead, there is either no provision, “comfort schemes” have been introduced, or there is an unstated reliance upon the private sector via coffee shops, pubs, and fast food restaurants.
This really highlights the places where people rely on having facilities available, these include:
- Any location which promotes itself as a place for tourists – the seaside, historic cities, National Parks. These places are all judged on their toilets.
- A high street which is competing with a local shopping centre will find that a lack of public facilities will drive users away as they don’t wish to beg their way in to a local café or coffee shop
- A park in an urban area, which may have a play area, a skate park or other feature which the Local Authority have installed, will then need the appropriate infrastructure around it to function at its best
- Cemeteries and other places of remembrance, where people may gather, and dwell for periods of time
In many instances, we witness toilets being closed in these types of locations, only to be reopened, often at great expense, in the future. Because of this, we think it is better to remodel a toilet, reduce the running costs and think of the future requirements, than to close and reopen later at greater cost.
How Healthmatic can help
At Healthmatic, we recognise the importance of public facilities for the community and the importance of keeping costs and stress levels low within local authorities and we want to support both. Take a look at some of our previous completed projects.
We will work with you to ensure that appropriate facilities are provided, as well as ensuring that they are maintained and managed in a cost-effective way that keeps anti-social behaviour headaches to a minimum. If you are concerned about the public toilets in your area, get in touch with us, or pass this article to your local council. We are always happy to help and provide more information.
1 Parliament Publications