GLA Health & Public Services Committee Meeting: 12th Jan 2010
[To find out the context of this page, please click this link to my blog post on “Public Toilets and … the Greater London Authority”.
For some more succinct recommendations as to what the GLA should do, try the post on “Public Toilets and … the Greater London Authority – My Response”.]
What follows is my entirely paraphrased version of the committee meeting, which I hope I won’t get into trouble for, interspersed with my comments and responses to the committee’s rhetorical questions. Enjoy.
(Anyone who is unhappy with my ‘transcription’ is welcome to contact me via the comments or by email – email@example.com. I’m more than happy to correct it)
People Present (that I’m aware of)
James Cleverly (Chair)
Navin Shah (Deputy Chair)
Tony Arbour (standing in for Andrew Boff)
Richard Barnes (Deputy Mayor; also a Committee Member.)
Chris Upfold, Revenue & Inclusion Manager, TfL
Cllr Sue Vincent, Cabinet Member for the Environment, London Borough of Camden
Jonathan Simpson, Corporate Affairs Manager, Tesco
Hannah Holdroyd, London Policy Officer, Federation of Small Businesses.
James Cleverly: Happy New Year. Have their been any improvements since 2006? What can we do before the Olympics?
Deputy Mayor: Well I assure you I don’t have details of all 32 boroughs…
Sue (Camden Cllr): I only have my own borough…
ME: (32 Boroughs isn’t actually that many, compared to 300+ District Councils… At the risk of being London-centric I may do this.
In fact the developers Jelerang did do just this a few years ago for Toilet Map London, a practice iPhone app. It’s static information – they trawled websites and rang councils, God bless ’em, so the map is going out of date, but it’d be easy to compare different Boroughs and pick out which have a Community Toilet Scheme, for example).
Deputy Mayor: But from my Local Gov experiences, the cost of vandalism, cleaning and repair means a reduction in public toilets.
The provision of public toilets should be considered in planning developments.
For Example! Where we are now, MoreLondon, there are 2 in the Walkway, and 2 at the back of the restaurant(s). They’re badly signed. I’ve only seen inside when the door was open and they’re very small. This is a lack of provision considering the hundreds of people passing through.
(I wandered MoreLondon at lunchtime with my brother for 2 years when we both worked there. I once used the paid toilet near Tooley Street. It was Teeeny – you had to reverse in – and stainless steel. It was not a relieving experience.
Consequently my favourite place to pee at More London is the GLA. You have to go through a metal detector and have your bag scanned, but then you can run down the fun spiral internal walkway, look at the displays and maybe have a coffee or cake in their cafe afterwards. We saw Boris there once. It was ace.)
(Speaking of which – Do the GLA display an Open London sign? Lead by example, hmm?)
Deputy Mayor: Why don’t the Local Authorities require cafes to have toilets, even if only for their customers? We all know of hundreds that don’t.
Regarding Open London…
(Open London is the Mayor’s scheme to sign up businesses to allow non-customers to use their toilets (and without the public needing to ask permission). It’s like a Community Toilet Scheme but without the businesses getting a grant. Consequently their partners are big businesses like M&S and Tescos, who don’t need the financial incentive, not least because you and I use their toilets anyway… What *would* be useful, I’ve realised after watching this meeting, is knowing *which* Tescos and M&S *have* toilets)
…the participants already had toilets in their businesses. Part of the scheme was to put a sign in the window, but all were reluctant to do that.
Sue (Camden Cllr): There’s been no decrease in toilets in Camden in the last 5 or 6 years. I agree that there’s been a general reduction in London toilets due to maintenance costs. In Camden we have Victorian toilets – 2 are now accessible, 4 are not.
I take the point on Section 106 agreements, but everyone wants a piece of it.
In Camden we’re looking at a range of provision; promoting a mixed economy e.g. providing publicly accessibly toilets in 11 public libraries. We could look to work more in partnership e.g. asking community centres to open up their toilets to the public.
I agree with the point about crime. Toilets at Camden Tube were shut due to this. We need to look to TfL to provide facilities.
James Cleverly: So that’s the municipal provision. What about businesses?
Hannah (Small Businesses Fed): Anecdotally our members are reluctant to make amenities open to non-customers. I’m not aware of any members in a Community Toilet Scheme. They don’t object to it, but they don’t have the facilities to have a free-flow of people wandering in and out in the same way as Tesco.
(I think this is a misconception. I’m not aware of any evidence that Community Toilet Schemes attract a lot of use, and they’re set up by a Borough who recruit a lot of businesses for their scheme so there’s no great pressure on any one business to provide for all. Plus they’re pretty poorly advertised so I’m surprised sometimes that anyone uses them at all. Richmond-upon-Thames have fingerpost signs pointing to their participants which must increase use a lot, so it would be interesting to ask them. And the business can always leave the scheme! Just give it a go…
An important distinction is that Open London covers big businesses with no financial incentive, whose toilets the public use anyway, pretty much. A Community Toilet Scheme is run by a council and suited to, well, communities, e.g. the outer boroughs. The Cities of London and Westminster don’t have Community Toilet Schemes. Camden does, which is interesting, but based around Kentish Town Road, a community).
Hannah (Small Businesses Fed): Regarding Public Transport – Railways do a good service. At Kings Cross they waived charges recently due to the shear amount of people. It was a nice gesture at a busy time.
Although there’s free access at St Pancras; I don’t know if people nip over to save 30p!
(I might have if I’d thought of it. When I was at Kings Cross, Twice!, their change machine wasn’t working and their barrier was down. Grumble Grumble. On the second occasion I eventually had the presence of mind to go to the men’s toilet (quite a way away) just, I hasten to add, to use their change machine, then wander back to the ladies, use the loo, and forget all intentions to write a grumpy letter.)
Jonathan (Tesco): Due to Open London we’ve seen an increase in the larger stores of people wanting to use the toilet facilities there.
(ooh! I wonder how Tesco’s know?)
Jonathan (Tesco): If we have a toilet we’ll always let non-customers use it. In smaller stores if someone has an urgent need we’ll try to let them use staff toilets but it’s difficult when they’re in a secure area.
Regarding the Open London signs: We’re a business, and we want to keep the appearance as that of a retail outlet, not as a municipal facility. We’ll continue to work with the Mayor to publicise the scheme in whatever way we can.
(just not as street level…)
James Cleverly: Transport?
Chris (TfL): We’ve increased the number of toilets since 2006. We’ve opened 6 new ones and made others step-free. New toilets tend to follow big redevelopments, so Tottenham Court Road and Victoria will have toilets. And we’ve made Tube Toilet Maps and are looking at signage with the British Toilet Association.
Richard Barnbrook: Regarding availability: In Camden in the ’80s there were portaloos in the market and that resolved a lot of problems. They’ve subsequently gone.
Regarding crime: We could learn from clubs here. Firstly clubs successfully install UV lighting which stops ultravenous drug taking (because you can’t see your veins).
- Drug users can use a fluorescent pen to mark their veins beforehand.
- Or inject into more dangerous areas, such as the groin *shudder*
- UV Lights make things difficult for those with visual impairments
- UV Lights can be unsettling for people with autism
- It criminalises the Public Toilet, making it unpleasant for the public
There are many academic papers on this which we’d be happy to provide references for. The British Toilet Association have a Problem Reduction Guide: Here (pdf).
And finally… Here! )
Richard Barnbrook: The other thing that people do is block toilets with loo roll. Clubs get around this by having a limited amount of paper coming out.
(I didn’t realise this was why. I’m sure some people block toilets intentionally, but Sometimes it’s due to a poor flush system (or the cistern not having the chance to refill). For example, at any pop concert, every lady will know, that the longer the concert goes on the more toilets block and become out of order.
I watched in awe during a Take That gig as my friend’s sister went “This is so stupid. They’re not blocked, it’s just the flush is rubbish and people don’t push it hard enough, so it doesn’t flush, then the paper builds up and eventually the next person and the next stop bothering to flush it, assuming it is blocked. Until eventually it is blocked.” She then flushed several of the toilets, doubling the toilet capacity of that part of Wembley Stadium. WOO!)
Richard Barnbrook: Another thing is Tourism. Certain locations have more people visiting than others. Not a lot of people are wandering around Barking & Dagenham compared to Notting Hill, Westminster, Camden. So we should all share costs in these locations by putting-in paid toilets. Can we create step-free self-cleaning toilets that have a pay-mechanism? Are there any projects earmarked?
In 1999/2000 there were 701 public toilets in London. Now there are around 490.
Deputy Mayor: We need to look more imaginatively at how we provide services.
There are bus stop providers who can provide a bus stop with a toilet attached. This would be TfL responsibility.
Hillingdon have refurbished their libraries and in doing so made their toilets available to the public. It’s not advertised but it’s a known fact.
(if it’s not advertised then how is this different from Any public library?)
(Update: I’ve just checked the rather nice Hillingdon Council Map of Public Toilets which you can download here, and they do include libraries (and tube and train stations, which is very ‘joined-up’ of them), so in that sense it is advertised. Perhaps just not at street level… If they were to start a Community Toilet Scheme, recruit some businesses and make some stickers then I’d hope the libraries would display the stickers thus providing some street level signage. They could probably save money as well, by reassessing the value of some of the less-used Superloos and reducing their numbers, providing they had Community Toilet Scheme members nearby to maintain the provision.)
Deputy Mayor TfL > Staff are reluctant to take you to back areas for the same reasons that small businesses are reluctant, e.g. security.
Navin Shah: It appears to be a very low take-up of Open London. Why?
Deputy Mayor: You’d think pubs would be keen, but they have to provide all the cleaning & facilities. It’s a cost on their business.
Tescos etc clean their toilets ongoing through the day, but small businesses don’t have the means to do that.
Others like Costa Subway KFC are franchises; essentially individual small businesses. Not even KFC HQ could dictate that they open up their toilets. It requires individual negotiation.
We’ve not yet come across anyone who’s put a sign up to say their toilets are part of Open London.
Navin Shah: Therefore is this scheme going nowhere further than current participation? Or are we still trying to get small businesses & franchises to improve this problem?
Dept Mayor: Well we (GLA) have no powers, just influence. So what we can do is work with the boroughs. We don’t have the staff or resources to visit every KFC in London and I don’t think Camden do! No, I’ve been told Camden don’t either!
(Wandsworth do! I’ve met him, he’s very good. The lady at the council who runs the scheme has signed up 60-odd toilets to their Community Toilet Scheme by ringing companies or sending said man out to speak to store managers, including McDonalds. So there… talk to Wandsworth)
Dept Mayor: We need to look at Planning, and at Transport. Individual shops won’t work.
Navin Shah: So we need a mix of approaches. How can the Mayor work with Boroughs?
Dept Mayor: People congregate at bus stops which have an advertising attraction. Couldn’t we include a toilet integrated into a bus stop?
But let’s be clear, the old Victorian stand-alone provision; that will never be recreated in London. It’s dead and gone.
Navin Shah: No there’s no dispute of that.
(There’s one being planned for Oxford Street. OK it’s attached to the back of a cafe/information booth. But it’s a physical building. It has a weird consortium of people building it, but essentially it’s to replace the underground Victorian public toilet at Oxford Circus that was filled in when they did the diagonal crossing. More on that one day in a different blog post…)
Sue (Camden Cllr): This is an important quality of life issue. There needs to be more publicity for Open London: I’d never heard of it before. The Planning side is key, perhaps with the Localism Bill and Neighbourhood Plans.
Richard Barnbrook: I can appreciate some stores don’t want to put stickers in the window, but we could pass the list to tourist companies who’ll pass it on to visitors.
The same goes for Local Councils – they could publish a list in the local paper, rather than in the shop window.
(I’ve been thinking about this for a while; publicising Community Toilet Schemes (CTS) in local magazine/paper… I really need to draw it up. It’s been in the pipeline for MONTHS)
Sue (Camden Cllr): Free papers are free because of advertising.
Regarding tourism: yes, but these things change quickly (participants) and on a CTS level it’s small independent cafes, not big chains. CTS is a very time consuming and complicated issue.
Navin Shah: I’m concerned that Boroughs are not aware of Open London, which I believe in, therefore we should work on this. I’m still concerned about ground level signage.
Deputy Mayor: All boroughs were informed. Enfield have now signed up to a CTS. But it’s never going to be a major policy matter, more of a nudging thing.
Sue (Camden Cllr): Legible London is a good opportunity to signpost as well.
Jonathan (Tesco): We’re happy to be part of the scheme. The bad thing in central London is when you find a pub that says ‘customers only’. That’s the balance, rather than us saying ‘public toilets’, and there’s a benefit as someone may go on to buy a drink etc.
Deputy Mayor: Provision is part of customer service. Sainsburys run retail stores, not public toilets. It is there as part of the customer service.
Richard Barnbrook: How many Tesco’s are there in central London?
Jonathan (Tesco): I don’t know; I’d have to look it up. Local express stores don’t have toilets. Larger metro and superstores do.
Richard Barnbrook: Well with bigger stores people will know anyway that there’s a toilet, you go in and can’t miss the sign > bang, toilet. Regarding the High Street is there a possibility to take a leap with smaller stores in the planning and design to put in a unisex accessible cubicle? That would be a step forward. Then a sign on the front of the store saying ‘toilet’.
Jonathan (Tesco): Yes it’s a balance. We’ll always put a toilet in where we have space as it’s something our customers want.
But councils have lots of public buildings (community centres etc) and I can’t imagine Barking & Dagenham for example have a sign saying ‘public toilets are available in these buildings’.
(Note to self: Take photo of Battersea Library entrance sign which proudly displays their CTS sticker… I wonder if Wandsworth Town Hall has one, since they’re also in the scheme…).
Update: Battersea Library
Richard Barnbrook: But where there’s a will there’s a way. You should take the initiative.
Hannah (Small Businesses Fed): John Lewis may be missing a trick as people have to go through the store to get to the toilets.
Someone: Actually they did put our Open London sticker up!
Someone Else: And I use them regularly!
Hannah (Small Businesses Fed): People will use Tescos loos anyway since no one’s going to stop them to ask if they’re buying anything in this instance. But it’s not fair to make Tescos responsible for public toilets.
But I wouldn’t expect to be able to walk into a small grocery store and just use their toilets anymore than Pizza Express or Deloittes
(But we’re Paying them!! It’s OK, someone eventually explains Community Toilet Schemes properly later. Actually I’m not sure whether they’re talking about Open London or Community Toilet Schemes here (and I’m not sure everyone in the room did), but ‘Most People’ (made up fact) don’t know what a CTS is, and Open London just seems to be confusing things. There should be some national press on this, e.g. ‘This Borough have this great scheme! Everyone loves it and it’s cheap. Why don’t you find out if your Borough does, then beg them to start one?”
When they immediately agree they might like to read this Strategic Guide to Public Toilet Provision and this Guidance to Providing a Community Toilet Scheme, both from the Dept of Communities & Local Government, and both interesting and useful, in my opinion)
James Cleverly: Regarding the use of a private business loo as a public facility > there’s an assumption that this means large volumes of usage.
If there was a mindset that it was Generally acceptable to use private business toilets and therefore if you were to ask to use the toilet you’re more likely to be allowed than not, and thus usage for any one business would be low, what would you think?
Sue (Camden Cllr): I understand businesses are there to run a business not to run toilets, but it’s a basic human need. But the larger organisations in their Corporate Social Responsability (CSR) can take the lead. And we’ve got an ageing society… Incontinence… Children… We should have more facilities available on all our high streets, including small businesses.
(I love Sue)
Tony Arbour: But if it’s a basic human right then it should be on a public organisation to provide them, not private businesses. Unless we’re paying them…
(WE DO!! And he knows this, it transpires later, as he lives in Richmond who have a successful CTS. I guess we’re still talking about Open London here. It’s Very confusing.)
Deputy Mayor: (Advocates and explains the world-wide reputation of using McDonalds loos.)
Tony Arbour: Is there scope for providing toilets on the underground?
Chris (TfL): In major redevelopments the cost of adding a loo is cheap.
Tony Arbour: Well I’m looking at your TfL Map of toilets. I get the impression that you charge?
Chris (TfL): Only in a few cases, that experience Anti-Social Behaviour. And we donate the money to charity.
Tony Arbour: Would TfL be happy with the suggestion to have toilets built into bus-stops considering oppostion from locals in even having a bus shelter near them as it would attract Anti-Social Behaviour.
(I didn’t know this. People really complain about bus shelters? I complain when there isn’t one. Damn you, People!).
Chris (TfL): I don’t see how this suggestion is different from having stand-alone toilets, if you’re basing this on advertising. It would need to be a busy stop to make that work.
Tony Arbour: There must be staff toilets at all Underground stations. Is there public access to those?
Chris (TfL): There’s not access at all of them. Staff are told to take a view to allow people to use them. But it’s tricky when they’re in a secure area, so you need someone to accompany them.
Navin Shah: How has the Community Toilet Scheme in Camden impacted?
Sue (Camden Cllr): Cost. We’ve given a small amount of money to small businesses to take part. We’ve only got 6. We’re looking to expand.
The impact is a broader offer; a mixed economy. It gives local shoppers that security that there’s somewhere to go. The difficulty is the resource to talk to local businesses and get them to sign up. The antisocial behaviour element restricts people signing up. If someone blocks your only toilet it can be out of action to your actual customers. It’s difficult. Also there’s a frequent turnover of small businesses so if manager the changes they may opt out.
But we do support it. And maybe the Localism Bill will pick up some Neighbourhood Plans.
Navin Shah: Is there a strategic plan for how many you ‘need’ and where?
Sue (Camden Cllr): No. It’s under review.
People also use our libraries, and they have extended hours. McDonalds is on our scheme.
Navin Shah: Will Local Authorities use CTS to close viable public toilets?
Sue (Camden Cllr): Maaaybe (but not in Camden), but we’ve already seen 16% drop across London so we can’t afford to close more.
Tony Arbour: There’s no such thing as a viable public toilet. In Richmond when we set up CTS some of our existing public toilets cost £13 a pee.
Sue (Camden Cllr): In Camden ours cost £400 000 a year on maintaining the limited toilets that we have.
Navin Shah: It depends how you define ‘Viable’
(Quite. I don’t know what viable means)
Tony Arbour: We have more than 60 businesses (in Richmond) because we give them £600. It’s a fraction of the cost compared to those that we’ve closed. In some parts of the Borough we had too many people signing up and some of these toilets get hardly any use at all.
Hannah (Small Businesses Fed): I wasn’t aware of CTS before this review, or of incentives. I think that would encourage participants, yes. I’m disappointed no Local Authority has made us aware of these schemes.
James Cleverly: It’s not as simple as ‘if I see a Tesco there’s a public loo’ as it depends on the store. What about a public map of publicly-accessible loos?
Deputy Mayor: It’s so variable that it would take a whole army of people to maintain and put on a website.
(Noooooo!!!!! I’ll do it! With Council help. And some cash…)
Deputy Mayor: I don’t know who runs Sat-Lav…
(It’s Westminster City Council)
…But the number is 80097. You text ‘Toilet’ and it tells you where you’re nearest Council-owned facility is.
(But not if you’re in the GLA. Only if you’re in Westminster….)
And it doesn’t tell you if it’s open (YES IT DOES!) or what states it’s in (NO IT DOESN’T!)
James Cleverly: Is there a balance between a sign that’s noticeable enough for the passer-by but not so noticeable as to put-off your shoppers?
Jonathan (Tesco): Yes. But we’re missing a trick by just asking companies like Tesco, as people already know they can. You’re missing a trick not having publicans, who sometimes have signs putting people off.
This is an opportunity not a threat.
James Cleverly: It’s strange that a pub would want to discourage the passer-by (nice lady with kids) in preference to the drunk people inside.
Hannah (Small Business Fed): We have pubs in our membership. Those signs do nothing for their image. But some businesses might do it because they’re only for the over 18s and they don’t want younger people coming in for that reason.
James Cleverly: Anything else?
Deputy Mayor: If you’re elderly, diabetic, have small children, this is critical.
I’d hate any foreigner to go home saying ‘the Olympics were great but the toilets were awful’
Chris (TfL): Toilets are something that can restrict use of the tube as much as step-free access.
Sue (Camden Cllr): The future could possibly be pan-London signage, possibly tied into Legible London, that includes small businesses and promotes it as ‘A Good Thing To Do’. And a CTS loo of the year award, special for London.