Posts tagged ‘GLA’

..”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

… Tesco

I’m having a belated grump about the Mayor of London’s ‘Open London‘ scheme.

Open London is a London-wide community toilet scheme, where businesses say that anyone can use their toilets without having to buy anything.

The difference between ‘Open London’ and council-level community toilet schemes is that the Mayor’s participants tend to be national chains, and they don’t get a yearly grant – it’s more a good-will thing. Nor, as far as I can tell, is there any sort of contract, which is a bit of a problem, as we shall see..

Launched in 2009, an article in the Guardian described it thus:

“Open London” stickers will be used to publicise firms willing to lend their toilets for free during opening hours without obliging individuals to make a purchase.

Many stores.. ..already allow passersby to use their loos without buying so much as a packet of chewing gum.

The trouble is that most people do not know that such facilities are open to the public – something that Johnson is trying to put right by providing information about where the nearest accessible loo is located”

However when the scheme launched, most of the participating businesses, except John Lewis I think, refused to show the sticker.

What’s more, John Lewis is the only participant where every store has a toilet. For the other main participants; ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and M&S; it depends on the store.  Not even the Mayor has a list or map that shows where the Open London toilets are.

So the whole point of Open London – the sticker – has gone amiss. With that in mind, other than a 3-year-old press release, what is Open London?

Open data

In 2011 the London Assembly published their recommendations to the Mayor following their investigation into public toilets. 3 of the 5 recommendations related to Open London:

  1. to include GLA buildings in the scheme (rejected)
  2. to expand the scheme (accepted, though he claimed that ‘those major companies – which mostly feature on every major high street.. are already signed up’)
  3. to provide open data about the participants’ facilities (sort of accepted – he can’t compel the businesses to, but would support the London Assembly if they were to ask them)

Tesco

As an Open London participant, Tesco were invited to the GLA’s Health and Public Services Committee in January 2011 to discuss all things public toilet [transcript].

Their statements seemed contradictory. Here’s a selection:

“We are very pleased to be part of the Mayor’s overall scheme.” (they actually said this eight times!)

“There is a slight reluctance to publicise the overall schemes in our windows. It is that balance of us being a business, and making sure that our stores are there to be retail outlets rather than an overall municipal toilet facility.”

“We will continue to work with the Greater London Authority, the Mayor’s office and with local authorities in terms of publicising the schemes in whatever way we can.” 

“Obviously, every local authority has community facilities, town hall, libraries which have these facilities there. I cannot imagine that Barking and Dagenham or any local authority would have a big sign saying, ‘Public facilities are available in these buildings.” (plenty do, by the way..)

Summary: “We’re really happy to be mentioned in the press release saying that anyone can use our toilet, but we don’t want to put up a sign saying so, or a sign saying that this store has a toilet, but we’ll do whatever we can to help promote the scheme, except that.

I don’t really understand the problem. There was never a suggestion of putting up a “big sign saying public toilet”. There was a green sticker saying ‘Open London’ which, frankly, meant nothing to anyone, and was therefore more subtle than most community toilet scheme stickers.

Really it amounted to little more than a supermarket having a sign outside that listed toilets amongst their facilities, which you would think they would do anyway.

However Tesco were just echoing the sentiment of other retailers, including some community toilet scheme businesses who are contractually obliged to show the sticker and still remove or hide the damn things.

Open data and Tesco

The information about which stores have toilets exists through Tesco’s online Store Locator.

Through obsessive and extensive trawling last year I found 57 Tesco stores in Greater London with toilets [data].

If Tesco were to open-up their Store Locator data, the toilet information could be incorporated in maps and apps, as would other data in the Store Locator such as the locations of Tesco’s pharmacies, cash machines, and accessibility info, which is perhaps more appealing.

Open data about privately-managed yet publicly-accessible toilets, including train stations, service stations and supermarkets, is the next big challenge after council data.

It may even be more useful as half the participants in our research project preferred and were already using these facilities rather than traditional public toilets; and easier to obtain as we’re now dealing with national datasets.

Tesco already have an API for developer use for their online shopping, so they’re not adverse to this sort of thing.

So it could be that, following their disappointing comments at the GLA Committee meeting, Tesco will turn out to be the leaders in this field, and that other providers of publicly accessible toilets will follow suit.

Here’s hoping.

June 18, 2012 at 5:58 pm 1 comment

… London’s Toilet Info

more London-centric blogging, sorry…

However!

The Greater London Authority have been reinvestigating the state of London’s loos.

Before they write their report they would like to hear your thoughts on Toilet Data.

The GLA will be asking the London borough councils, nicely, to provide clear, complete, consistent information on their public toilet facilities, and in a common format, so that it can be re-used by absolutely anyone to make London-wide maps and toilet-finding applications and websites.

This would be a big improvement compared to now where the info is fractured across 33 council websites.

When it exists.

Which it frequently doesn’t.

Consequently they have been working on what this common format should be. They need to know what data the councils should include (e.g. location, opening times, type of facilities, access restrictions…) and how the data should be formatted.
Read more…

May 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm 2 comments

… The Greater London Authority – My Response

As fun as it is to intersperse the committee meeting’s minutes with my own comments, I think it would be more helpful if I write (and perhaps send to them, once I’ve made it less anecdotal and ranty) some conclusions and advice in response to the Health & Public Services Committee who are reviewing London’s public toilets.

These recommendations relate to Open London & Community Toilet Schemes. The committee didn’t really cover toilet maps in their discussions, so the comments on this subject that our Research Project submitted as part of the GLA’s Call for Evidence (pdf) still stand.

Open London and Community Toilet Schemes

It’s tempting to think of the Mayor’s Open London scheme as a Community Toilet Scheme for Central London.

In reality, there are clear distinctions between the two.

  1. Open London covers all of Greater London; Community Toilet Schemes are run by a Borough and cover all or part of a Borough.
  2. Open London works in partnership with national businesses and retailers, through their Head Office; Community Toilet Schemes work with small businesses and franchises, through Store Managers.
  3. Open London does not pay businesses a grant to allow non-customers to use their toilets; Community Toilet Schemes do.
  4. Open London covers businesses who’s toilets you’d use anyway, generally, without asking; Community Toilet Schemes, generally, do not.

The participants of Open London, according to the website, are ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Borders (ahem), John Lewis, and Viyella and Austin Reed (both Regent Street only).

Point 1: Which stores have toilets?

The last two are interesting, as it makes you think ‘Oh! I didn’t know these shops had toilets’. The rest; Supermarkets, Department Stores, and M&S; we’d all use anyway, regardless of whether they’re on the scheme.
Keep reading…

January 14, 2011 at 1:44 pm Leave a comment

… the Greater London Authority

In 2006 the Greater London Authority (GLA) had an investigation into The State of London’s Public Toilets (pdf).

4 years later the Health & Public Services Committee are holding a review.

As part of our research project Out-of-Order we responded to their call for evidence into changes since 2006. You can download our response here. It’s a cracker. (a cracker that takes a moment to load. Like, 10 seconds. It’s worth it, trust me)

Yesterday (12th January) the Committee met to discuss current provision with a range of guests. I watched it this morning via the webcast, got far too into it, and started taking minutes.

It goes on a bit too long for a blog post, so check it out via this link to an entirely paraphrased version of the committee meeting, which includes, as it goes along, my comments and answers to their rhetorical questions.

No really, do.

It was interesting, if personally a bit disappointing. But there are some seeds of ideas and I’m sure (well I’m not, but I’m hopeful) that the GLA will do lots more good things to follow on from this.

Fingers crossed.

January 13, 2011 at 5:50 pm 5 comments

… the Mayor of London

On Tuesday night I went to People’s Question Time, a twice yearly free event for about 1000 Londoners to pose questions to the Mayor and the London Assembly.

It wasn’t my idea – it was my friend Laura, but once I’d agreed I knew in the back of my mind that I’d have to ask about public toilets *sigh*

It might seem strange but I don’t always like talking about public toilets (actually it would be stranger if I did). Their image is dirty and seedy, and they’re associated with poo. Sometimes this gets to you. However I do love thinking about design and the urban environment and safety and social equality and gender equality and fairness, and all of these things are found in spades with regard to public toilets, which is why I love my job. Plus they’re So essential yet so full of flaws that for a designer it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

But I digress. Laura booked a holiday to Marrakech instead so I went off the whole idea, but due to the enthusiasm of the lovely ladies from the Women’s Design Service that I’d met with on Wednesday (their amazing 1990 publication At Women’s Convenience is available here) I recruited my brother instead and we went to the Camden Centre determined to get my question in!

People’s Question Time is divided into 5 sections – Police, Transport, Environment, London 2012 and Other. I waited for Other, stuck my hand up, and 5 questions and a dead arm later got picked. I was handed the mic just as my brain exploded, but luckily my mouth was on autopilot.

Here’s how it went:

Me: Hello. My name’s Gail and I’d like to ask about public toilet provision.  A few years ago the GLA looked into the provision of public toilets in London and found out about the shortcomings, however the initiatives such as Open London that were put in place have all but fizzled out, so I’d like to know what more the Assembly can and will do.

Chair: Joanne McCartney led a very successful piece of work on public toilets, and has become something of an expert on the subject… spoken all over the country… Joanne, where’s the work of your Committee going on that subject?
Keep reading…

November 4, 2010 at 5:46 pm 5 comments


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