The 5000 toilets of England and Wales

February 7, 2014 at 5:13 pm 9 comments

I’ve completed a count of public and community toilets in England and Wales, as listed on council websites.

It began last May. Spurred on by my annoyance at Wandsworth Council’s decision to stop paying businesses to be in their Community Toilet Scheme (a decision which has reduced the number of participants  from 75 to 7), I wanted to know whether other councils pay participants to be in their schemes, and how many schemes exist.

“How long can it take to Google every council?” I wondered.

Well,  I’ve just finished. (I did have a baby in between)

I decided, whilst I was searching, to also record the URL of each council’s community toilet scheme (CTS) webpage, and also their public convenience page. I also counted how many toilets there were.

A count of public and community toilets in England & Wales (.xls)

I used an ONS spreadsheet of population density to get the list of all the district and unitary authority councils for England and Wales, then googled them one by one. If Google didn’t find anything I searched the council website directly. If that did’t find anything I moved on. Consequently I’ve not done Scotland and Northern Ireland. They’ll have to wait.

The results are:

3980 public toilets

1009 community toilets

59 community toilet schemes

The vast majority of schemes pay businesses to participate, ranging from £200 to £1560 a year. Some councils are not forthcoming with the information and I have to search the minutes of the council meetings, which can affect my will to live. Sometimes I give up.

In Wales, where it seems the Welsh Government has spurred on every council to start a scheme, the going-rate is £500.

These figures are not conclusive. Sometimes I miscount. Also, they are reliant on the information being available online, and on it being up-to-date. Some councils may have lots of loos but prefer to keep it to themselves.

There are also over 1000 toilets in railway stations, a couple of hundred on the Transport for London network, and lots in service stations and shopping centres which are generally not included in these webpages. Also some councils are devolving public toilets to smaller town and parish councils, and I’m not about the google all of them.

So for England and Wales there are probably another 2000 publicly accessible toilets out there which are not included here, bringing the total up to around 7000 loos.

Good to know.  


Entry filed under: Information Design, Open Data, Politics. Tags: , , , .

.. Wandsworth’s Community Toilet Scheme …The 756 toilets of Scotland and Northern Ireland

9 Comments Add your own

  • […] This follows on from the previous post, where I trawled the council websites of England and Wales and found just under 5000 public and community toilets. […]

  • 2. Owen Boswarva (@owenboswarva)  |  February 22, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Hi Gail. Have you thought about submitting a standard FOI request to councils for data that they maintain internally about public conveniences, i.e. the information they may “prefer to keep to themselves”.

    As you have done such a comprehensive trawl of their websites, you are in a good position to identify councils that have not made the information publicly available. I cannot see any obvious reason why the information would be exempt from disclosure under FOI.

    Ignore me if you’ve already considered this avenue of course …

    • 3. Gail  |  February 22, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      Hi Owen,

      It’s something I’ve failed to do for 3 years, but yes, it’s the first thing we’re going to do when we begin in March! (though not me personally, as I’m on baby-leave). We might also FOI those with incomplete info, because if nothing else it spurs the council on to identify who is responsible for the toilet information, and can therefore be a good way for us to find the right contact person, as well as helping complete the data. However this is may be over ambitious.

      Having not written an FOI before, do you know if we should say what we’re using the data for, or ask specifically that it’s shared under a certain licence, in order to avoid being sent the data but denied the right to share it? Or can we not be that specific in our requests?

      • 4. Owen Boswarva (@owenboswarva)  |  February 22, 2014 at 5:56 pm

        Hi Gail,

        FOI is “applicant-blind”, which means you (or your colleague) don’t have to explain why you want the information and your motivations should not influence whether a council releases the information.

        However FOI mainly only provides *access* to information (with some limited use rights e.g. for news reporting). In practice if you are also asking a council to provide a licence to reuse the information you will need to explain what you want to do with it.

        Public authorities are obliged to provide any datasets they release under FOI in a reusable format. (The information you want will almost certainly count as a dataset). They are not obliged to offer a licence for reuse of the data, but are required to consider requests for a licence and explain any terms under which reuse is available.

        My advice is to explain what information you want as clearly as possible. However don’t be more specific than necessary in the first instance. If you don’t know exactly what the council holds you don’t want to accidentally put useful information outside the scope of your request.

        Then explain briefly about your project and how you want to use the information. It will add weight if you mention that the project is funded and has support or interest from central government. Ask for a licence to reuse any data the council provides, and say reasonably assertively that you would prefer that to be the Open Government Licence. (There is official guidance that encourages public authorities to default to the OGL when applying the FOI data provisions.)

        The dataset provisions in FOI are new, so when I make a FOI request for a dataset I usually also request it under the Re-Use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005.

        It’s also sometimes useful to mention nearby councils who have already released similar data under an open licence, if you have such examples. I’ve used that tactic a few times when requesting Rights of Way data from councils.

        I would be happy to help draft a standard FOI request or comment on one, when your group gets to that point.

      • 5. Gail  |  February 22, 2014 at 6:10 pm

        Thank you that’s really helpful. I’ll pass the offer of help on to Jo-Anne & Lizzie.

  • 6. .. Freedom of Information | Public Toilets and ...  |  June 25, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    […] wrote our request based on the advice from that site and feedback from Owen Boswarva following a previous blog post. Our request read as […]

  • […] wrote our request based on the advice from that site and feedback from Owen Boswarva following a previous blog post. Our request can be read at the end of this […]

  • […] own count of public toilets is based on another methodology – toilets listed on council websites – and found 3447 public toilets in England in 2013 (excluding community toilet schemes). This […]

  • […] For more toilet statistics and dubious analysis, take a look at blog posts on ‘the 40% decline in public toilets’ and ‘the 5000 toilets of England and Wales’. […]


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