Posts tagged ‘BTA’

..”the 40% decline in the last 10 years”

This morning an email through a very active public toilets mailing-list led me to look at publications on ‘Age-Friendly Cities’. One report called The Alternative Age-friendly Handbook by the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing contained this strangely familiar statistic:

Screenshot from An Alternative Age-Friendly Handbook

Screenshot from An Alternative Age-Friendly Handbook

The statistic implies a 40% reduction between 2004 – 2014. Yet this cannot be true, as the quote has been around for as long as I can remember.

So on what evidence is it based and to which 10 years does it refer?

The 2014 BBC News article cited in An Alternative Age-Friendly Handbook attributes it to the British Toilet Association (BTA).

Last year [2013] the British Toilet Association estimated that there has been a 40% drop in the number of public toilets across the UK in the last 10 years. (BBC News, 2014)

The BTA’s website doesn’t include a press release from 2013 to verify this. The BBC may be referring to the same quote given by the BTA on the Today programme in August 2013.

In fact the oldest BBC News article that uses this statistic is from 2007. This article seemed to imply it was from Help the Aged research (now AgeUK), and refers not to a 10-year period but is instead ‘since 2001’ which was when the Audit Commission stopped collecting data on the number of public toilets:

[Help the Aged] wants to see the reinstatement of a national mapping exercise to determine the level of provision which, until 2001, was undertaken by the Audit Commission.

It is estimated that since 2001 toilet provision has fallen by 40%. (BBC News, 2007)

However this also didn’t quite pan out when I looked at Help the Aged’s excellent 2007 research publication Nowhere to Go, to which the BBC News article was referring. Whilst the report mentions the statistic in its introduction, it is not a finding from their research but again attributed to the BTA:

Until 2001 the Audit Commission carried out surveys of Britain’s public toilet provision, which showed that it was declining rapidly. Since then a campaigning organisation, the British Toilet Association, has estimated that public toilet provision has dropped a further 40 per cent to less than one public toilet for every 10,000 people in the UK, not taking visitors and tourists into account. (Help the Aged, 2007)

Nowhere to Go does produce its own findings based on over 1000 survey respondents:

80 per cent of respondents do not find it easy to find a public toilet.

78 per cent of respondents found that their local public toilets are not open when they need them.

(Help the Aged, 2007)

The “40% reduction in public toilets..’ fact crops up again in 2007-08 in written evidence to parliament for the Communities and Local Government Select Committee report into The Provision of Public Toilets. Despite this being printed around the same time as Nowhere to Go, the statistic now doesn’t refer to a decline ‘since 2001’, but now states ‘..in the last 10 years’, suggesting a comparison with data from 97-98. Although it is still attributed to the BTA, it doesn’t actually feature in their own written evidence to parliament. Instead it is quoted in the written evidence of the British Standards Institution (BSI):

The BTA contended that over 40% of public toilets have been closed in the last 10 years. (British Standards Institution in The Provision of Public Toilets, 2007-08)

It also features in the BTA’s written submission to the London Assembly for their 2011 update report Public Toilets in London, but without an implied time period and emphasising the lack of data.

Has the number of publicly accessible toilets in London increased since 2006?

BTA: Despite the fact that the overall number of public toilets in the UK has declined in recent years by at least 40%, and the lack of reliable data makes it impossible to track the decline, the previous Labour Government failed to accept the Select Committee’s recommendation that ‘the Government seeks a means of collecting this data, either through requiring local authorities to provide figures from their own areas or by charging the Audit Commission with resuming its collection of accurate information on the provision of public toilets. We cannot therefore factually answer this question. (British Toilet Association in Evidence log – Public Toilets – Greater London Authority, 2011)

What’s interesting is that the London Assembly’s original 2006 report ‘An Urgent Need: The State of London’s Public Toilets’ also found a 40% decline, but this was specifically for London’s public toilets, saying that:

figures show an incredible 40 per cent decline in London’s public toilets since 1999. (London Assembly, 2006)

The London Assembly’s report explains how they arrived at this finding. The research compares ‘the last year for which the Audit Commission collected these statistics (1999/2000)’ which states 701 public conveniences produced by local authorities in London; with information from 2005 compiled as a response to a parliamentary question put to the Deputy Prime Minister, recorded in Hansard, which states 419 public toilets in London. This figure comes from an analysis of provisional industry and commercial data held by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), and represents the number of toilets in London for the last year for which they had data – 2004.

Whilst the London Assembly acknowledge that this is not comparing identical sources of data, they conclude that this represents a decline of 40% in the number of public toilets in London in just 5 years.

Hansard gives 5 years worth of public toilet data from the VOA, from 2000-2004. The data from 2000 estimates 500 public toilets in London for almost the same time period as the Audit Commission that estimated 701 public toilets. By the same logic, this would imply either a 30% reduction in toilets in London within one year (2000) OR more obviously, that the two organisations are using different definitions of ‘local authority public toilets’. A comparison between these two different data sources cannot be used to ascertain a decline over a period of time.

The GLA do go on to compare like-for-like, emphasising that the difference in the Valuation Office Agency figures from 2000 (500 toilets) to 2004 (419 toilets) still represents a significant 16.2% reduction in London’s public toilets in 4 years, and the largest for any region, thought significantly less than 40%. It’s also larger than the overall reduction in toilets for England (9.2% reduction) and more than double that for Wales (7.9% reduction).

This table shows data for the whole of England and some for Wales (but notably, not the whole UK) from the Valuation Office Agency as printed in Hansard, and Audit Commission data from both 1999-2000 and 2000-01 (it’s not clear why the GLA say 1999-2000 is the last year for which the Audit Commission has data – the latter showed 654 toilets for London)

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 14.06.19

Number of local authority public toilets

Comparing the Audit Commission data with Valuation Office Agency data for the whole of England for these years shows again how the latter produces a consistently lower number of public toilets. It also shows an overall decline of about 10% between 2000-2004 across England, however this time period is now over 10 years ago, so we cannot assume this has continued.The Valuation Office Agency continue to hold data on public conveniences which could be used to ascertain a % reduction in traditional public toilets in England and Wales. Their website allows you to search their 2010 database for the rateable value of property, but not to download open data of all properties of a type – say – public conveniences. Someone did send me such a file in 2012 showing 4626 toilets, however I don’t know how this was generated, for which year it is, or whether I’m even meant to have it! It does seem that these older stats are free-standing toilet blocks and so would be difficult to compare to the modern public service which encompasses toilets in other buildings such as shopping centres, public buildings or community toilet schemes.

My 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 could confirm a continued decline.. or it might just reveal how incomplete council websites are (a minority have no information on toilets at all).

Whilst I’ve not found the original research that found a 40% decline in public toilets for the UK over a 10 year period,  the statistic dates from at least 2007, making it 8 years out-of-date and widely misrepresented.

The fact that BBC News articles and research publications continue to print it illustrates the complete dearth of more recent toilet data.

That might gradually change if more councils choose the publish public toilet open data. However what does it say abot the lack of attention given to public toilets – a service at risk from local government cuts because councils don’t have to provide them – when we don’t even know the extent of the current service?

May 6, 2015 at 2:43 pm 3 comments

… the British Toilet Association

Nearly 3 months ago now I went to the annual conference of the British Toilet Association.

The BTA’s annual conference consists of a morning meeting of around 30-40 people in a hotel in Stratford.

Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon

It was one of the most useful conferences that I’d been to. The first person I spoke to was Mark Power, the architect who’d designed the new public toilet on the South Bank in London, the ‘Jubiloo’. The next was Roger Berry, the managing director of Healthmatic, one of the main providers of public toilets in the UK. Roger impressed me with his ipad full of public toilet usage statistics – footfall, fluctuation, revenus, ratings, feedback. I had found my people.

Raymond Martin of the BTA talked about the association’s consultation work with a few UK councils, and gave many interesting examples of public toilet management from around the country.

For example, a local scout group had been encouraged to ‘adopt a loo’. how this worked was that the council gave the scout group a couple of grand (I’m guessing..) to maintain the toilet, and any money left over at the end of the year they could keep. The theory was that the vandalism was being carried out by people of the scouts’ age, but that ‘peer-to-peer policing’ would be an effective way of reducing bad behaviour.

In another corner of the country, a council gave a local artist a patch on the street to sell his work, in exchange for keeping an eye on the toilets next door. Other services located at a public toilet to either maintain the toilet or provide natural surveillance included: a taxi rank, bike hire, tourist information, shop and ticket sellers.

Many toilets close due to poor maintenance and anti-social behaviour (or the fear of). ‘Design out crime’ ideas such as stainless steel toilets and UV lighting also design out legitimate use. Ideas such as these provide a more affordable way to maintain a public toilet.

We then had 2 presentations from sales people with public toilet-related products, although I can’t find the links right now so I’ll fill this in later.

I gave a 20 minute presentation about the Great British Public Toilet Map. Both Healthmatic and the BTA were supportive of the project and keen to see it develop. A representative of Visit Britain was also encouraging and we had a good gossip over lunch about the lack of government open data and the struggles of a similar project to map blue badge parking.

All in all, a good day. If I can just get the map off the ground again (translation: find more money), then the support is there to keep it going.

December 14, 2012 at 11:34 am 1 comment


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