Posts tagged ‘Community Toilet Scheme’
The Great British Public Toilet Map launched last Wednesday 19th November on World Toilet Day*
Previous versions of the map have existed since 2011, but this is now the largest publicly accessible toilet database in the UK by some way. It has over 9500 toilets, and I’d be confident of saying that the map will help you to find toilets no matter where you live.
If for some inexplicable reason it doesn’t, you can add, edit and remove toilets until it does! We’ve had over 1000 toilets added this week.
There are also a tiny minority of locations where the data has gone a bit loopy with duplicate loos or inaccurate locations. Don’t be shy about removing those that you think are wrong, or telling us at firstname.lastname@example.org about parts of the country that may need a little attention. You’ll be doing us a huge favour.
*As well as World Toilet Day, it was also GIS Day (Geographic Information System). They might as well name it Toilet Map Day.
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.
I’ve quickly searched through the district and borough councils of Scotland and Northern Ireland, and can add another 756 toilets to the count, made up of 706 public toilets and 50 in community toilet schemes.
The community toilet schemes are all in Scotland, where they’re known as ‘comfort schemes’. I found 5 listed, but I expect there are more.
Northern Ireland will also have more loos, but the council websites are a disappointment for the average toilet-hunter. I only found toilets listed in 11 of 26 borough council websites, and only one passing reference to a toilet scheme.
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.
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.
This week, whilst trawling council papers for mention of loos, as one does, I noticed that Wandsworth Council are scrapping the budget for their Community Toilet Scheme.
They’re not scrapping the Community Toilet Scheme – they’re just not going to pay businesses to participate in it anymore.
Community Toilet Schemes (CTS) are where the council pays local businesses (shops, pubs, cafes, etc) a yearly fee in exchange for letting the public use their toilets without having to buy anything. The council has an annual contract with each business, and the business has to display a sticker in their window so that the public know that they can use their loos. They council may also make leaflets or maps, and list the businesses online.
Community Toilet Schemes are suggested by the Government as a good way to supplement a council’s existing public toilet provision, but they do seem to launch at around the same time as the council announces the closure of the public loos.
Wandsworth Council are no exception.
In 2008 they launched their CTS and spent a couple of years building it up whilst closing down their Automatic Public Conveniences, or Superloos. I struggled to care about the toilet closures. Many of the Superloos were not well used – the most expensive was costing the council £18.08 per visit – and you couldn’t pay me to go in one. The council built up their scheme responsibly, ensuring a good coverage of the borough, and that the scheme included at least one CTS participant in each location where a Superloo had been.
Prior to the CTS, Wandsworth were paying £456 000 a year for 24 Superloos.
Their current CTS, one of the largest in the country, has over 100 toilets, and pays a generous annual fee to each participant of £900. Its annual costs are £100 000.
Even with the huge annual savings already made from switching to a CTS, this is apparently still too much, so the new budget is £0.
The council report says that the scheme will stay in place, as
“many of the businesses may see the increased footfall as commercially advantageous”.
Which would be great if it was based on fact, and businesses had finally recognised that toilets are an asset to shopping areas like the high street and should be valued and promoted as such.
However I’ve just noticed the word ‘may’ in that quote: “many of the businesses may see the increased footfall as commercially advantageous”.
May? Do they not know? Are participants even experiencing higher footfall? Have the council not asked them?
This sounds like nothing but a notion; a half-hearted justification for removing the entire budget.
Taking away the incentive of money jeopardises the whole scheme.
Firstly, if there’s no payment then there’s no need for a contract. The only way Wandsworth promote the scheme is through the stickers in the participants’ windows, which is one of the biggest problems – businesses did not comply. Previously if a business failed to comply then they were breaking their contract and the council could take away the money and chuck them out the scheme. Without the fee they’ve no contract, without a contract they can’t enforce the stickers, and without the stickers you’ve got no scheme (or “Open London” as the Mayor calls it).
It also means that you’ve got less leverage to ensure an inclusive public service, one with a good distribution of toilets, opening times and facilities (e.g. wheelchair accessibility, baby-changing). The scheme is now driven by commercial gain instead of public need. The market will decide where you wee.
Basically I was trying not to be cynical and thought maybe Wandsworth Council had done their research and had a plan, but with no money, no enforcement, no control, no promotion and no justification, it would be easy for someone to summarised that Wandsworth Council had:
1) Started a Community Toilet Scheme in order to close their public toilets,
2) Closed their Community Toilet Scheme.
But cheer up!
By cutting their entire toilet budget, Wandsworth Council have saved their residents (or ‘Wandsworth taxpayers’ as they like to say) a whopping 87p a year.
Or 2.9 wees at Clapham Junction station.
Don’t spend it all at once.
I’ve made a graphical map of public toilets in London by using the information given on council websites.
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?
Age UK have launched a campaign called Change One Thing where they support local older people’s groups to improve their neighbourhood.
Their campaign manager Mary Milne got in touch since naturally the subject of public toilets is coming up quite a lot! Over lunch with my Supervisor Jo-Anne Bichard we got onto the subject of Community Toilet Schemes: Do they work?
- Some people do not feel comfortable using pubs
- A Community Toilet Scheme cannot replace 24Hr provision
- Participants must cover a range of opening hours
- It should include disabled access toilets, baby-changing, family toilets, and if possible, a Changing Places facility
- A scheme by itself will not work in places with high tourism or events, where many people will arrive at once.
- The schemes won’t work in places without enough businesses, e.g. parks!
- You need to assess whether people are using the scheme and each of the different participants, else it’s a waste of money!
This last one bothers me quite a lot; enough to have written a post about it back in October.
How do you get the right participants?
Idea #9 is in line with some of my ramblings yesterday on taking a people-centred design approach to public services (and eventually building the Big Society).
So you’ve decided to close your public toilets (approximate saving £18000).
But it’s OK because along with the public library, you’ve found 2 pubs and a café who don’t mind the general public using their loos instead, in exchange for hard cash (approximate expense 3 x £600 = £1800).
What’s not to love?
One problem is communication. Everyone who’s visited the town knows that the big ugly block in the main square is the public toilet, not least from the smell.
How will they know that they can use these businesses instead? And where they are?
As mentioned in Idea#7: What Community Toilet Scheme? there are 3 solutions: signs, maps and open data (the open data is so that others can make their own maps).
Idea#7 looked at signs.
Idea #8 looks at maps.
It’s a bit… flawed.