… Council Websites (London)

December 19, 2011 at 12:01 pm 4 comments

I’ve made a graphical map of public toilets in London by using the information given on council websites.

This is a screenshot, because I can't embed for toffee.

You can view the actual map (it’s ‘clickable!’) here. It has labels to show which council is which. You can also Download the Data (.xls)

It says as much about council websites as it does about toilets.

For example, the 4 ‘white’ areas show councils with ‘No Toilets’. That’s because they don’t have a public toilet webpage. They may have squillions of toilets, but like the proverbial tree in the forest – if a public toilet isn’t listed on the council website, does it really exist?

That’s a bit rich coming from me, who has previously said that a council website is the last place anyone would think to look when in need of a toilet. The problem is that, until we have a database of public toilet locations and a UK public toilet map, it’s also the only place where this information exists.

If we ignore those 4 councils on the naughty step (Barnet, Barking & Dagenham, Hackney & Hounslow), there is still a huge range in the number of public toilets, from 4 (Islington. Seriously?! FOUR??) to 99 (the unlikely Wandsworth).

That’s because Wandsworth has a Community Toilet Scheme, where they pay a business £1000 a year to allow non-customers to use their toilet. A Superloo (automatic public toilet) costs around £18000 a year to lease, and a public toilet building can easily cost a similar amount. Which is why Wandsworth can afford 18 community toilets for every public toilet in Islington.

I broke down the data (where possible) into several ‘types’ of toilet:

  • Traditional public toilet (or ‘unspecified’)
  • Superloo
  • Park Toilet
  • Council Buildings (excl. libraries)
  • Libraries
  • Sports Centres
  • Tube/Train Stations
  • Community Toilet Scheme
  • Shopping Centres

The categories were determined by what was provided on the public toilet webpages. So because Brent‘s toilet page listed 2 Sports Centres, I added a Sports Centres column.  I did not then check to see if every other leisure centre in London did or did not have a publicly-accessible toilet, because I’m not insane. If it’s not on the toilet page, it’s not on the map.

(I was slightly nicer to Sutton. Whilst their toilet page only talked about the community toilet scheme, their separate pages on Libraries and Parks have very detailed accessibility info about the toilets provided, including photographs. Oh, and Merton have a pathetic 2 ‘community’ toilets, but also list loads of loos on a pdf about their parks. But I don’t feel good about it.)

So, to circumnavigate the problem of public toilet v. community toilet, I can split the data into two maps:

  • Public Toilets (Traditional public toilets, Superloos and Park Toilets)

and

  • Publicly Accessible Toilets (Council Buildings, Libraries, Sports Centres, Tube/Train Stations, Community Toilet Schemes and Shopping Centres, where listed.)

Map of Public Toilets (Traditional public toilets, Superloos and Park Toilets)

Public Toilets, incl. Superloos and Parks (when mentioned on council website)

Remarks:

  • The range of public toilet numbers has calmed down considerably. The fewest is 0, the most is 28.
  • 10 or 11 seems a popular number.
  • The Star Councils, with over 20 each, are now Merton (thanks to a their ‘Parks’ pdf – they don’t have any public toilets outside of parks), Greenwich, Lewisham, Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, and Enfield.
  • What about our previous star, Wandsworth? They’re floundering a bit, with only 7 now that their community toilet scheme data’s been removed. Though not as badly as Richmond-upon-Thames, who have gone from 97 to 0. There. Are. No. Words.
  • Lambeth also now suck – from 38 to 3. (not including parks. Lambeth’s page mentions that there are toilets in some parks, but you have to click on each of 21 parks to find out if there’s one there, and I can’t be bothered.)

It should be pretty clear now why councils like Community Toilet Schemes.

  • Cheap.
  • Council has no responsibility for cleanliness
  • Council has no responsibility for maintenance
  • Council has no responsibility for anti-social behaviour
  • Council has no responsibility for accessibility
  • Cheap.

Now don’t get me wrong – I like a community toilet scheme. It’s not just cheap, it’s good value for money. It ‘opens up’ a lot of facilities that were previously off-bounds (kinda) and you get a lot more frequent toilets (7 public toilets for 300 000 people is laughable from any angle). For places like Macdonalds that people use anyway, the store manager gets a few hundred pounds for the inconvenience.

However Community Toilet Schemes are blatantly being used as a reason to close existing public toilets, despite not being the same thing at all. We still need public toilets:

  • in parks
  • outside of business hours
  • accessible for all
  • for large groups
  • for busy areas (markets, town centres, bus stations, tourist hotspots)

Anyways, community toilets and other publicly accessible toilets (that’s ‘any toilet the public can use without having to buy anything’) are an excellent way to supplement provision. So which councils excel at this?

Publicly Accessible Toilets (Council Buildings, Libraries, Sports Centres, Tube/Train Stations, Community Toilet Schemes and Shopping Centres.)

Remarks:

  • About half the councils include some publicly-accessible toilets on their website.
  • Quite a few councils have boosted their public toilet numbers by 20 to 50 toilets, i.e. doubling or quadrupling provision.
  • Richmond & Wandsworth are really going for this Community Toilet thing.

The Purple Spot indicates an official Community Toilet Scheme. 

What’s interesting (to me) is that some boroughs list a lot of publicly accessible toilets, yet don’t have a spot: Hillingdon (20 publicly accessible toilets; in the north-west), Southwark (21 in the, er, middle), and Brent (18 toilets, north-middle).

This is my favourite approach to council websites (though if these councils were to have a community toilet scheme too, fantastic). They’ve doubled the number of publicly accessible toilets in their borough without spending a penny (so to speak).

Hillingdon’s public toilet webpage (actually just a link to a downloadable pdf) includes 11 superloos, 9 libraries, 9 tube/train stations and 2 shopping centres. The last 2 categories are nothing to do with the council, but it’s useful information.

If you want to find a toilet in, say, Westminster, as thousands do each day, do you care whether the toilet is managed by Westminster Council (location and opening times on Westminster Council’s webpage) or by the Royal Parks (location and opening times on the Royal Parks webpage)?

Southwark even included an ASDA, which they’ve every right to do as it’s a member of the Mayor of London’s Open London toilet scheme, a sort of big-brand community toilet scheme, who don’t get a grant on the basis that they’ve got all the cash. Every borough could include information on Tesco, M&S, ASDA, John Lewis and Sainsbury’s within their boundaries, as long as the store has a toilet.

Why don’t the councils provide information about all the toilets in the borough that the public can use, rather than just the ones that the council manage?  That would be a public service designed around the needs of the people, rather than the provider.

As I said at the beginning, this is all as much about public toilet web pages as it is about public toilet provision.

So what’s the best London Public Toilet Webpage?

Off the top of my head (if I can remember the webpage then it’s doing something right!) Here’s my Top 3.

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Entry filed under: Information Design. Tags: , , , .

… Local Directgov … Analysing London

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Michelle  |  December 19, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    Excellent detective work Gail. However, you cannot believe all you read on websites – the last time I looked at Croydon’s website for toilets, they listed some that had been closed for years. Also, data is sometimes too vague to be useful – Lloyd Park in Croydon is shown as having public toilets, but this park covers dozens of acres, and there is no clue as to where these toilets may be. I have visited for 12 years,and have never found them!

    Reply
  • 2. … Analysing London « Public Toilets and …  |  December 20, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    […] Using information from council websites, I made some maps to show the varying numbers and types of toilet across London, from public toilets and community toilet schemes to other publicly accessible toilets (in Stations etc..). This was yesterday’s blog post. […]

    Reply
  • 3. Paul BYford  |  December 20, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    Thanks, Gail, for yet more excellent research and comment. I think that this illustrates the “postcode lottery” of toilet provision in London. Richmond residents have a large Community Toilet scheme, while next door in KIngston there are just a few traditional toilets left. Wandsworth have also developed a Community Toilet Scheme, with three times as many facilities as that of neighbouring Lambeth. However, Lambeth have on-street signage pointing to theirs, whereas Wandsworth don’t. Meanwhile, Sutton have an excellent CTS scheme in Sutton town centre, while up the road in Merton the powers that be concluded there was no need for a similar scheme in Wimbledon. Given the “merger-mania” in councils at the moment, it’s a shame they can’t work out some kind of pan-London scheme.

    Reply
    • 4. Gail Knight  |  January 4, 2012 at 3:05 pm

      That’s a really good point – every time I go to (or through) Lambeth I spot a sign without looking for them – it’d probably be more worthwhile paying the businesses less in grant money, and spending the extra on signs so that people can *really* use them.

      I still wish the Mayor would make more of his Open London scheme and provide information in a meaningful way (even just a printed map of participants) – lead by example.

      Reply

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