Posts tagged ‘Local Councils’

..the BBC’s new toilet data

BBC Breakfast reported today that 1782 toilets had closed in the UK in the last decade, based on their FOI requests.

Data from 331 out of 435 councils also showed

  • 10 councils have no council-run toilets (Newcastle, Merthyr Tidfil, Wandsworth..)
  • 22 councils have only one (Manchester, Stockport, Tamworth..)
  • Highland Council has 127, Pembroke 73, Cornwall 65.
  • 4/5 councils have cut expenditure since 2011, with £21 million less spent in total (a reduction of 1/3)
  • 43 councils have reduced their budgets by more than 70%.

It’s very exciting to see data produced on toilet closures, considering the scale and importance of the issue. This up-to-date information is so useful when it comes to campaigning for better access to toilets.

I’m particularly obsessed interested in the data itself, particularly its accuracy, and what it says about the accuracy of other sources out there. So how does this data compare with our own analysis, over the years?

  • In 2014 we found 8 councils providing no council-run toilets from our FOI requests: Copeland, Hambleton, Bolsover, Shropshire, Breckland, North-east Derbyshire , North Dorset and Tewkesbury.  Regarding those picked out by BBC Breakfast as not having any toilets: in 2014 Newcastle then listed 7 on their website, Merthyr Tidfil had 8 (via our FOI) and Wandsworth still had their Community Toilet Scheme of 70+ facilities.
  • Our top three were Gwynedd (121 toilets), Highland (111 toilets) and City of London (92 toilets). Gwynedd and City of London both have Community Toilet Schemes within these numbers, which would account for their failure to make the BBC top 3.
  • We only consider there to be 406 or 407 councils at the tier of local government that is responsible for public toilets, not the 435 reported above which refers to all UK councils; county councils are not relevant. Nit-picking, yes, however, parish and community councils are stepping in more and more, so this issue is set to become massively more complicated. It’s unclear whether this would be picked up in the BBC data – a toilet that is no longer run by the district council would appear as a reduction in council-run facilities, so would this be therefore a ‘closure’, even if the community or parish council was now running it?
  • In terms of closures, the best data we’ve had so far came from using the Valuation Office Data for England and Wales, which lists how many toilets are eligible for business rates each year, where I found a 28% reduction in public toilets since 2000. The BBC data says 1782 toilets have closed in the UK since 2006. I have numbers from the Valuation Office Agency from 2004 and 2008 but not 2006; these show a reduction in numbers of 1156 toilets and 701 toilets respectively. However, consider that the VOA data doesn’t include Scotland or Northern Ireland. There’s also not an exact correlation between ‘council-run public toilets’ in the BBC’s report and ‘public conveniences subject to business rates’ in the VOA data. Whichever definition is used, we’ll still end up with a figure north of 1000 toilets closed in 10 years for the whole of the UK.

So, all in all we now have multiple sources of data about public toilets that seem to support each other and stand up to some gentle scrutiny. Thank you BBC for this latest report.

May 31, 2016 at 9:59 am 1 comment

…mapping public toilets by council

There are 406 councils in the UK responsible for public toilets. We collected information on nearly all of them, either through their website information or through nearly 300 FOI requests to councils for The Great British Public Toilet Map. In January I coloured-in a map of the UK to show toilets per council.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 15.53.10

On Thursday I went to a Visualising Data workshop run by the Future Cities Catapult. They gave lots of advice on presenting data and using it to tell stories. For example, it’s important to choose the range of colours carefully so that it’s clear what you’re trying to convey, by using sites like colorbrewer2.org (as opposed to using whatever felt pens you can find in the office, see image 1).

They also proposed that just because you can present location data on a map, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best way. This is definitely something to take on board, but not before I figure out how to make the above map digitally.

So I’ve used CartoDB to do just that. The interactive version, with useful things like Titles! and Keys! is here: http://cdb.io/1HuiPn0.  Meanwhile, here are still images.

(note: I’ve not included councils that have no toilets. This also includes some councils that do have toilets but didn’t give any data and we didn’t seek to count London councils at the time, so they are also blank. Also the free trial of CartoDB only allowed 50MB of data which wasn’t enough to import council boundaries for the whole UK, so this is just England & Wales :( )

First, I’ve remapped toilets per council:

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 13.08.00

…which is a lot clearer.

Then, because it’s digital I could replot the data instantly and try other things relating to population and area. Toggling between toilets and population showed that broadly, councils with more people have more toilets. It also highlighted areas that are exceptions – noteably the national parks and seaside resorts – loads of toilets and very few people.

This also shows one of the limits, because toilets aren’t necessarily needed so much for residents but for visitors as well.

There are still exceptions. this map of people per toilet shows the huge range – from just 315 people/toilet (Isles of Scilly) to over 200K people sharing 1 public toilet (Solihull).

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 13.06.14

I don’t know what the optimum number of people per toilet is, but the range is alarming.

There is of course the old problem that this may also partially highlight the variety in the information given by different councils either by FOI or website, i.e. what they consider a ‘public toilet’.

However there’s enough bright red to make me think something is going wrong in those areas, and it’s worth a closer, more local investigation. I suspect there are also more interesting datasets to map than population or area, but I’m not sure where to start. Please send suggestions!

You can play with the interactive version at http://cdb.io/1EeCMqg.

May 18, 2015 at 4:19 pm Leave a comment

.. The Great British Public Toilet Map

The Great British Public Toilet Map launched last Wednesday 19th November on World Toilet Day*

The GB Public Toilet Map shown on iPhone

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 toiletmap@rca.ac.uk about parts of the country that may need a little attention. You’ll be doing us a huge favour.

You can read more about the map in The Mirror, The Guardian or The Telegraph. Or view our press release.

*As well as World Toilet Day, it was also GIS Day (Geographic Information System). They might as well name it Toilet Map Day.

November 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm 1 comment

.. the Local open data incentive scheme

Screen shot of the Local government open data incentive scheme

BIG NEWS in the search for local council toilet data.

After years of emailing councils requesting open data about their toilets, it is now suddenly being published, in bulk, in a useful format.

22 datasets have already passed ‘technical review’ in the last couple of months, with 80+ in the pipeline!

22 is already about as much as I managed in 3 years…

But how? (quick answer – the Local Government Association asked them to)

and why? (quick answer – they’re paying them)

In February 2013 I made a formal request for public toilet location data via data.gov.uk.

The Open Data User Group took up this request – cogs whirred, people in meetings said ‘Toilets!”, plans were developed (OK so I don’t know the details..) and the Local open data incentive scheme was born, with public toilets as one of the three datasets it would focus on.

Woo!

Managed by the Local Government Association (LGA), the Local open data incentive scheme offers up to £7000 to councils if they publish open data about key themes in a consistent format.

The current themes are public toilets, planning applications and licensing of premises. They get £2000 per theme and a bonus £1K if they do all three.

Approved data will be collated and will also appear on data.gov.uk for people to use and make maps and find toilets etc. etc.

Thank you people who made this happen for taking the request seriously, not overlooking the unsexy topic of public loos and spending your money to get better information about a vital public service.

September 23, 2014 at 10:02 am 2 comments

.. Freedom of Information

One way in which we are finding more toilets to add to The Great British Public Toilet Map is by making Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

Councils have a statutory obligation to respond to FOI requests within 20 days. Our Research Assistants Lizzie and Billie were tasked with sending out the FOI requests to the councils, as part of our current work on the project, funded by the Nominet Trust.

They identified 405 district councils and unitary authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If the public toilet (and community toilet scheme) information on each council’s website was sufficient, they recorded this data. However if it was non-existent, or so brief that it was useless (e.g. “We have 6 public toilets.”), they sent FOI requests, working through the UK region by region. In total they sent 314 FOI requests. 

As luck would have it, someone (Jonathan Roberts) had already made FOI requests to 31 councils for information about their public facilities, including toilets, including many in Wales, through the website What Do They Know?, so they only had to follow up on a few of these.

Lizzie 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 post.

Did it work? At last count, We had responses from 199 councils, equivalent to  a response rate of 63%, in excess of our 50% target.

We were still waiting for a reply from 115 councils. A few had been chased 4 times as the 20-day period had passed without response. Of those that replied, the majority  have sent data (or a pdf of data). A minority have directed us to the information already on their website. A couple have sent links to pre-existing open data. At least 1 council asked us to foot the bill, requesting £450 for the data to be collected. We declined.

Next we have to unpick what we can actually do with the data.

Whilst The Great British Public Toilet Map is a non-commercial use, the map does have to be sustainable, so we need the option to use the data for commercial purposes too.

Guidance shared by @_datapreneur about Section 102 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012  says that datasets have to be made available for re-use, including for commercial purposes, if certain conditions are met.

Does the toilet data fit this description? I think it does. So long as the council ‘own’ the data it is theirs to release for re-use.

An exception would be Ordnance Survey location data. I’m also not sure about toilets provided by a third company, e.g. the Superloos. Could they ‘own the rights’ to the information about their opening hours, rather than the councils, for example? Is that even practical? At what point is information simply in the public domain?

At least one council has decided to share the information under EIR (Environmental Information Regulations) instead of the FOI Act, which makes things different again.

And what about the councils who specifically said it could only be used by  The Great British Public Toilet Map, and for non-commercial gain? If they had no right to, are we ignoring them at our peril?

My next task it to get to the bottom of these questions, hopefully in a way which doesn’t involve extensive back-and-forth email conversations with 300 separate councils.

Suggestions, as always, are extremely welcome.

 

Dear ### Council,

We are writing to request details of your public toilet provision. We intend to use this information as open data for the Great British Public Toilet Map. This is a project started by the Royal College of Art and funded by the Nominet Trust to make it easier for people, in particular those with reduced continence, to find toilets.

Please treat this as a request for information under both the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and under the Re-Use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005, we request a dataset that covers all your toilet provision including public, library, parks and associated offices (one- stop offices for council tax payment etc). In short any toilet provision you offer to members of the public including those under any community toilet scheme you may have in operation. The specific data we require, if held by the Council, is:

– the longitude and latitude / postcode / exact location

– Opening times

– If there is a cost to use the facility

– Male / female

– Disabled access (including RADAR scheme)

– Baby changing (male and/or female)

– specialist provision such as urinals and/or squatting toilets

We request that this data is provided to us via email and if possible in a spreadsheet (XLS) format. We also request that this data is provided under licence that allows reuse, ideally the Open Government Licence.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter,

Yours faithfully,

####

The Great British Public Toilet Map

June 25, 2014 at 12:00 pm 4 comments

.. The Great British Public Toilet Map, Take 3.

Last October we were awarded £20 000 from the Nominet Trust to develop The Great British Public Toilet Map (@GBToiletMap).

The Great British Public Toilet Map, at http://greatbritishpublictoiletmap.rca.ac.uk

The Great British Public Toilet Map, at http://greatbritishpublictoiletmap.rca.ac.uk

The following video was made for the application and explains our project in 2 minutes – click to watch ..

 

We began work in March and will work on the map for 6 months. As I am on maternity leave, the project lead is the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design‘s Senior Research Fellow and Toilet Enthusiast, Jo-Anne Bichard, while the design ideas, data collection and day-to-day work has been embraced by Research Assistants and (soon to be graduating) MA students, Elizabeth Raby and Billie Muraben. Meanwhile, Neontribe are figuring out how to make it all work.

In brief, we aim to add A LOT more toilets. The existing site is little more than a prototype, consisting of data for a handful of London boroughs, a few other councils, National Rail Enquiries and Transport for London, the latter of which is four years out-of-date to my eternal frustration.

We also aim to improve the information about each toilet, since at the moment we have opening hours, wheelchair accessibility info and baby-changing info.

Therefore, we (.. and by ‘we’ I mean Lizzie, Billie and Neontribe) are:

  • Trawling council websites for public and community toilet details
  • Sending Freedom of Information requests when the info is missing or poor
  • Importing the 4000-odd toilet locations from OpenStreetMap (OSM)
  • Developing a means for the public and councils to add/amend entries, in order to crowd-source for data, to make it more reliable and complete
  • Developing a means for all this extra info to be added back into OSM
  • Redesigning the interface so that all these extra toilets and info can be seen and understood easily

..as well as a million other things that will help us to provide a useful, sustainable website by the autumn for everyone to benefit from.

I will try to blog about things as they develop, such as our massive FOI efforts (I believe the East Midlands are winning for the most replies), our upcoming paper-prototyping, and the licensing headache that is starting to emerge.

However, we met up with Harry and Rupert form Neontribe on May 1st and got very excited to have our first big toilet/data conversation for a very long time.

With such loo-mapping enthusiasm in the room, only good can come of this.

 

 

 

May 12, 2014 at 5:16 pm 2 comments

.. Open Data Councils – part 3

I’ve updated my records of which councils publish open data about their public toilets.

Google doc spreadsheet of councils and their toilet data (read only)

I’ve not checked every council, but I have checked every council listed as ‘open’ or ‘semi-open’ on openlylocal.com’s Open Data Scoreboard. 

The links tend to go to their open data page rather than straight to the data itself.

There seem to be 25 councils that publish public toilet open data, which sounds a bit rubbish, although that’s several hundred loos. Also, a couple of those councils sent me a spreadsheet rather than publishing the data online.

Nearly 20 of these datasets were made because I asked a council who were publishing other data if they could also make an open dataset about their toilets, and they happily obliged.

I mention this because I’ve not asked anyone for any data in 2-3 years, and from what I can remember about 4 more datasets have appeared in that time.

Which is a bit sad. This suggests that either a) progress in council data moves at a snail’s pace, with not many more councils joining the revolution, and still no one thinking of toilets or b) if you don’t ask you don’t get. Or maybe c) both.

Previous posts:

.. Open Data Councils (Jan 2011)

.. More Open Data Councils (June 2011)

 

 

 

March 27, 2014 at 1:17 pm Leave a comment

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