… the Mayor of London

November 4, 2010 at 5:46 pm 5 comments

On Tuesday night I went to People’s Question Time, a twice yearly free event for about 1000 Londoners to pose questions to the Mayor and the London Assembly.

It wasn’t my idea – it was my friend Laura, but once I’d agreed I knew in the back of my mind that I’d have to ask about public toilets *sigh*

It might seem strange but I don’t always like talking about public toilets (actually it would be stranger if I did). Their image is dirty and seedy, and they’re associated with poo. Sometimes this gets to you. However I do love thinking about design and the urban environment and safety and social equality and gender equality and fairness, and all of these things are found in spades with regard to public toilets, which is why I love my job. Plus they’re So essential yet so full of flaws that for a designer it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

But I digress. Laura booked a holiday to Marrakech instead so I went off the whole idea, but due to the enthusiasm of the lovely ladies from the Women’s Design Service that I’d met with on Wednesday (their amazing 1990 publication At Women’s Convenience is available here) I recruited my brother instead and we went to the Camden Centre determined to get my question in!

People’s Question Time is divided into 5 sections – Police, Transport, Environment, London 2012 and Other. I waited for Other, stuck my hand up, and 5 questions and a dead arm later got picked. I was handed the mic just as my brain exploded, but luckily my mouth was on autopilot.

Here’s how it went:

Me: Hello. My name’s Gail and I’d like to ask about public toilet provision.  A few years ago the GLA looked into the provision of public toilets in London and found out about the shortcomings, however the initiatives such as Open London that were put in place have all but fizzled out, so I’d like to know what more the Assembly can and will do.

Chair: Joanne McCartney led a very successful piece of work on public toilets, and has become something of an expert on the subject… spoken all over the country… Joanne, where’s the work of your Committee going on that subject?

Joanne McCartney: The work is being taken up by the Committee still and I believe they’ve just started an update report on this and they’ll be asking the public’s views.  I was quite heartened when the Mayor was elected and he said he was going to continue with the Community Toilet Scheme, he was going to persuade shopkeepers up and down the country to open their doors, to encourage people to go in, but I understand that the Committee has not been able to find an advisor that is actually leading on this and can come to the Committee and give evidence, which I think is of great concern.

Chair: Is this your Committee, James Cleverly? Can you tell us where you’re going on the public toilet issue?

James Cleverly: Erm, the..

Mayor: I can tell you..

James Cleverly: …it’s going to sound terribly evasive, I mean the simple answer…

Chair: No I don’t want evasive!

Mayor: No I’ll, I’ll give you the answer..

James Cleverly: …the answer at the moment…

Chair: Mr Mayor have you got an answer?

James Cleverly: …the answer at the moment is I don’t know which is why we’re doing the review…

Mayor: Let me answer!

Chair: Mr Mayor…

Mayor: I know the answer. I know the answer because we’ve been..(mumble). (answers the previous question about Olympic soil for a bit) but on Toilets!, on toilets what we did with Open London; I’m grateful to you for bringing it up because the more publicity this gets the better; there are a number and a growing number of stores that make themselves, their premises, open to us all to go when nature commands it. They include from memory Sainsbury, Marks & Spencer, Costa Coffee and various other stores that have joined the Open London network, and, I think McDonalds as well, and I urge you all to make use of these facilities and to hold them to their word because it is important that people should be able to do this and as I said to the businesses when we were launching this: people not only spend a penny as it were, but they may also invest in their shops as well, so there’s an economic benefit to it as well.

Ah, politics.

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Idea #3: Rate this Toilet Idea #4: The Asymmetric Cubicle

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jo-Anne  |  November 5, 2010 at 8:26 am

    theoretically you could have put the question into any one of the slots…
    Police – why do they keep shutting toilets down – more people want to use them, then those who abuse them?
    Transport – why don’t we include toilets as an essential part of the transport infrastructure like they do in Japan & China? chances are that when your on the go you want to go!
    Environment – does the mayor agree that if there were more public toilets avavilable in the evenings and early mornings we might have less street urniation and defecation – not only unpleasant but harmfull to health and environment…
    London 2012 – where are all the tourists going to go? where’s our little legacy for the people – oh a park with no loos in!

    Reply
  • 2. James Cleverly  |  November 5, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Gail,

    Sorry my answer at PQT was a bit vague. The reason was that we are just about to launch an investigation into this issue checking up on the Mayor’s progress in this area and I didn’t want to pre-judge the findings.

    The formal launch will be in a few days time and you can keep up to date with the investigation here:

    http://www.london.gov.uk/assembly_investigation/public-toilets

    Reply
    • 3. gailknight  |  November 5, 2010 at 2:38 pm

      James,
      Thanks for commenting. I appreciate that your answer was the most accurate, and honestly didn’t expect more from an out-of-the-blue question – I’m just glad to see that the Assembly are taking it seriously!

      We hope to submit some suggestions to the GLA’s investigation, based on the work of our inclusive design research project, TACT3, and previous work in the field.

      Reply
  • 4. Paul Byford  |  November 14, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    I’m glad that someone else has been chasing up the Mayor over “Open London”, which has clearly withered on the vine. I recently contacted the Mayor’s office regarding the fact that none of the stores displayed the signs for the scheme and (eventually) got a sniffy response pointing out that participating stores are not obliged to display signs. In response I questioned what the point of the scheme was if no-one knows it exists.
    Interesting that Boris thinks that McDonald’s and Costa are in the scheme-they are not on the (admittedly old) web page so if they are participating nobody knows about it. I did also suggest that Borders should be removed from the list….!
    Glad to see you highlighting this unglamorous but important issue-keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • 5. gailknight  |  November 15, 2010 at 3:51 pm

      Thanks Paul, it’s good to know there are others interested in this.

      The signs, McDonald’s, Borders… I couldn’t agree more! (and I have strong reason to believe that McDonald’s are not involved; perhaps the Mayor just wished it so).

      Reply

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