… The Greater London Authority – My Response
As fun as it is to intersperse the committee meeting’s minutes with my own comments, I think it would be more helpful if I write (and perhaps send to them, once I’ve made it less anecdotal and ranty) some conclusions and advice in response to the Health & Public Services Committee who are reviewing London’s public toilets.
These recommendations relate to Open London & Community Toilet Schemes. The committee didn’t really cover toilet maps in their discussions, so the comments on this subject that our Research Project submitted as part of the GLA’s Call for Evidence (pdf) still stand.
Open London and Community Toilet Schemes
It’s tempting to think of the Mayor’s Open London scheme as a Community Toilet Scheme for Central London.
In reality, there are clear distinctions between the two.
- Open London covers all of Greater London; Community Toilet Schemes are run by a Borough and cover all or part of a Borough.
- Open London works in partnership with national businesses and retailers, through their Head Office; Community Toilet Schemes work with small businesses and franchises, through Store Managers.
- Open London does not pay businesses a grant to allow non-customers to use their toilets; Community Toilet Schemes do.
- Open London covers businesses who’s toilets you’d use anyway, generally, without asking; Community Toilet Schemes, generally, do not.
The participants of Open London, according to the website, are ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Borders (ahem), John Lewis, and Viyella and Austin Reed (both Regent Street only).
Point 1: Which stores have toilets?
The last two are interesting, as it makes you think ‘Oh! I didn’t know these shops had toilets’. The rest; Supermarkets, Department Stores, and M&S; we’d all use anyway, regardless of whether they’re on the scheme.
But in the case of Supermarkets and M&S, there’s no Open London information on which of their stores have toilets. I think the GLA missed something here.
There has been a big reluctance on the part of the businesses to display an Open London sticker in their window, even though this amounts to little more than saying, at street level, ‘We have a toilet’. Whilst this is frustrating, the expert from Tesco said he would be happy to publicise the scheme in whatever (other) way he could.
What would, I think, make a difference is a list of Tesco/ASDA/Sainsbury’s/Marks & Spencer stores that have toilets (even better, a map. And even better still, an open dataset).
I did some Christmas shopping on Kings Road in Chelsea despite my reliance on two ‘public’ toilets at either end of a very long stretch of shops (Peter Jones at one end, Chelsea Town Hall at the other – very nice loos at the Town Hall! and listed as publicly-accessible toilets on the Kensington & Chelsea website).
But when I wanted to find a public toilet I was halfway between the two, thus I wandered into M&S, scoured the signs and walls, checked for an M&S cafe (a good indicator of store toilets), got frustrated and caught the bus home, spending the rest of my money in Clapham Junction instead (Customer toilets are available on the top floor of Debenhams Clapham Junction, or at Wandsworth CTS participants).
It’s no good to the public to be told “Tesco allow you to use their customer toilets and you don’t even have to buy a drink or feel bad about it.” We don’t.
What would be useful to the public is being told whether the Tesco Express or Tesco Local that’s a few streets away in Westminster has a toilet, before we go out of our way, desperate for the loo, to get there.
Recommendation 1: Gather and publicise information on which Open London participating stores have publicly-available toilets and where they are.
Point 2: Open London at the Borough Level
My second point regarding Open London and Community Toilet Schemes is the overlap in them. As I said before, the impression given of Open London is as a Central London Tourist/Visitor provision, with Community Toilet Schemes operating in the outer boroughs.
But actually, to use my local example of Wandsworth, there’s an ASDA in Clapham Junction that has a toilet. There is also a Sainsbury’s at Earlsfield that has a toilet.
The Sainsbury’s at Earlsfield is included in Wandsworth’s Community Toilet Scheme, probably because they were struggling to find participating businesses in Earlsfield and Sainsbury’s has a customer toilet (I’m assuming this isn’t a back-of-house loo). I’m pretty sure Wandsworth Council are not paying Sainsbury’s a grant for this! So essentially, they’re including an Open London toilet, but have found out about it the hard way.
Why not consolidate the two schemes?
The GLA could inform the Boroughs not just that:
“the Mayor’s got an Open London scheme and you should consider a CTS”
as I believe happened during the original publicity, but instead say to the Boroughs:
“These are the businesses participating in Open London, these are the Open London stores within your Borough which have a toilet, and you can include these in your Community Toilet Scheme information.”
Suddenly Wandsworth alone has gained a dozen more Community Toilets, including ASDA Clapham Junction. Peter Jones would be included in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. Marks & Spencer would be included in Lewisham and many other places where M&S do have loos. Community Toilet Schemes would flourish.
More to the point, this means that those Boroughs that don’t yet have a Community Toilet Scheme, essentially, Do!
By including council building toilets ( Town Hall, Libraries…) and local Open London participants a Borough already has a skeleton version of a CTS on which they can build, for their individual communities, once they’ve found the budget for grants.
Regarding the street level signs, the responsibility is now shared between the GLA and the Borough to convince Tesco HQ or Tesco Brixton to display an Open London or CTS sticker. But as we’re not about to offer Tesco Brixton the £600 grant for their participation in the scheme, bribary, alas, is not an option.
Recommendation 2: Work with Boroughs by offering information on local Open London stores-with-toilets for inclusion in their Community Toilet Schemes.
Point 3: Sat Lav & Open London
The approach of Recommendation 2 can also extend to Central London.
Central London (i.e. the Cities of London & Westminster, and parts of Camden, Southwark, and Kensington & Chelsea) are Very Busy. These places will always need proper, municipal, well-signed public toilet buildings for tourists and visitors to use. Privately-owned toilets would not be appropriate as the sole provision, and a Community Toilet Scheme in Soho, however poorly advertised, will put undue pressure on a small independent café.
However, central London can have a public-private toilet scheme by informing the public of the toilets available to them through large stores and businesses, essentially the Open London facilities (and backed up by council provision. I wasn’t joking in my ‘minutes’ of the meeting when I said that I hope the GLA are displaying an Open London sign. Maybe they do? Actually *flashback* I think they might… sorry GLA).
There’s already an overlap. Westminster City Council’s Sat Lav scheme (where you can text ‘Toilet’ to 80097 and receive details of the nearest facility) not only includes municipal toilets but also, with the business’s permission, the Department Stores of Oxford Street, for example. They even call it a Community Toilet Scheme.
Although Westminster’s Community Toilet Scheme, focused on Oxford, Regent & Bond Streets, more closely represents a localised version of Open London than a CTS (national businesses, no grants, places you’d go to pee anyway), there are discrepancies between the two systems.
For example, Debenhams and House of Fraser are part of Westminster’s CTS, so I can use their toilets on Oxford Street, phew!
But they’re not part of Open London (Note to self: Feel guilt when using the toilet in Debenhams, Clapham Junction).
Marks & Spencer are part of Open London, but do the toilets in their Oxford Street stores appear on Sat Lav? (I don’t know I’m afraid, without standing outside M&S and texting. There’s no complete list of businesses).
As both schemes are supported by the Mayor of London, perhaps it would be possible to consolidate them. In other words:
Recommendation 3: Work with Westminster City Council to consolidate the participating businesses in Sat Lav and Open London.
I think that’s all for now.
love Gail x
[UPDATE: It turns out the City of London do have a Community Toilet Scheme, of 11 businesses, mostly pubs, and House of Fraser.]