Posts tagged ‘Public Toilets’

..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

.. a 28% reduction in loos since 2000

“A 28% reduction in public toilets since 2000, in England and Wales.”

That’s my headline, now an explanation of all the data and assumptions that lead me to it.

Public toilets are subject to business rates, so the valuation office agency has details on all public toilets along with their rateable value. This was recently mentioned in a regular toilet-enthusiasts email conversation, along with the suggestion of using the data to calculate the number of closures, after the Prime Minister said in 2015 that he’d  look into exempting public toilets from business rates to save them from closure.

Where’s the data from?

I’ve collated valuation office agency figures from  2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.

The figures for 2000 and 2002-2004 were recorded in Hansard in 2005.

  • 2000: 6087 toilets
  • 2002: 5882 toilets
  • 2003: 5701 toilets
  • 2004: 5539 toilets

[analysis of provisional Valuation Office Agency Data. Data as at 1 October 2000, and 1 April for 2002, 2003 and 2004]

The figure for 2008 is given in a Parliamentary Question from 2008.

  • 2008: 5084 toilets (30 Jan 2008)

The data for 2012 I received in an email from another toilet enthusiast.

  • 2012: 4626 toilets (Dec 2012)

The data from 2016 I copy/pasted into Excel from 107 pages of Valuation Office Agency search results (fun times).

  • 2016: 4383 toilets (March 2016)

From the 2016 data, as I had the full dataset rather than just the total number, I could interrogate the data. I deleted any results that were themselves listed as ‘deleted’ in the rateable value column rather than as a value (which I’d assume the figures for other years also do; certainly the 2012 data does not include any toilets marked ‘deleted’). Even then, there are toilets listed as ‘under reconstruction’, ‘derelict’, ‘closed’; however these are relatively few (~40) once the ‘deleted’ data is removed.


Here’s an ugly graph of the data showing the 28% decline between 2000-2016:

Graph of toilet numbers 2000-2016

What does the data include?

The Valuation Office Agency rating manual for ‘public conveniences’ states this relates to “all types of public convenience provide for use by the general public (with or without payment). For the avoidance of doubt it is not relevant to the valuation of public toilets forming part of larger hereditaments.” 

Rateable values are also applied to automatic public conveniences (‘superloos’) and free-standing urinals – although there’s only 1 urinal listed in the 2016 data.

So how many of England and Wales ‘public’ toilets are included?

Certainly community toilet schemes are not, nor are supermarkets or department stores, or train or tube stations (except Green Park, oddly). It does include some bus stations, but not others.

Where I live in Walthamstow (E17) it lists toilets in the shopping precinct (there are actually two sets but listed as one) and toilets at a suburban station that I’m not aware exist, but it doesn’t include the bus station or park, let alone the library, museum or community toilet scheme. Where I used to live in Battersea (SW11) it doesn’t list any, but again there are three sets of toilets in Battersea Park and at least one set in a cemetery, as well as libraries, department stores, train stations..

So it’s tricky to say how far away this is the absolute value for ‘public’ toilets. More expertise would also been needed (from the valuation office agency themselves perhaps) to know for certain how the previous years’ figures were compiled to be sure they are comparable to 2012 and 2016.  What it does show very clearly (assuming definitions have not significantly changed) is that public toilets have significantly declined. 

Other sources of data

The 2008 Communities and Local Government Select Committee Report, The Provision of Public Toilets, states that ‘Valuation Office Agency data on the number of toilets with a rateable value shows a decrease from 5,410 toilets in 2000 to 4,423 in 2008, a reduction of 987 or 16 per cent.’

Although it is not stated, this data must be for England only, in which case it’s not too far off the numbers given for Jan 2000 in Hansard (5342 for England alone).

The same report also states the number of toilets listed in the Ordnance Survey Points of Interest database. ‘This identifies around 9,800 public toilets in England in 2007. These are public toilets that are visible from outside, so do not include public toilets inside buildings such as train stations or shopping centres’ It also points out that disabled toilets are exempt from business rates.

For more toilet statistics and dubious analysis, take a look at blog posts on ‘the 40% decline in public toilets’ and ‘the 5000 toilets of England and Wales’.

April 26, 2016 at 4:33 pm 3 comments

.. 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 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

…Transport for London


The toilet data deluge continues..


Now it’s Transport for London’s turn, who are providing open data about toilet facilities on their network, spotted and shared with me by @OwenBoswarva on Twitter.

I don’t pretend to understand these things entirely, but it looks like two separate datasets:

  • .xml called ‘Step-free Tube guide and Toilet data‘ professing to have toilet info for all Tube, Overground and DLR stations
  • .csv for Toilets in Bus Stations

This delivers on one of the Mayor’s earlier commitments; that TfL would publish their Under-, Over-, Tube and Bus station toilet data by Spring 2012; in response to the London Assembly’s 2011 report into London’s public toilets.

Thank you Transport for London! Unlike a toilet, it’s better late than never.

October 1, 2014 at 3:08 pm Leave a comment

.. Ordnance Survey – Part IV

It never rains but it pours..

A screenshot of Ordnance Survey's maps for public use, because I couldn't get it to embed. What's more, the public use maps aren't relevant to this post, and don't show the public toilets...

A screenshot of the OS OpenData map product.. which doesn’t show toilets.. but who knows what the future may bring?

I’m still catching up on everything that’s happened in the past year, but it seems that Ordnance Survey are opening up their toilet data!

Or to be very, very, specific..

“..recently we have enabled our IP to be used in an open data release of one council’s toilet data, and if any others approach us for releasing toilet data this is likely to be on the same terms”

The council was the Borough of Barrow-in-Furness, who applied for a OS derived data exemption, in order to produce their toilet data for the LGA’s incentive scheme.

It’s great that OS have recognised that open toilet data is in the public interest and personally I think they deserve a really big hug.

Past posts on the OS saga:

…Ordnance Survey

…Ordnance Survey’s Reply

…More from Ordnance Survey

September 24, 2014 at 2:49 pm 4 comments

.. 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

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.


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 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

.. the Open Data Institute

On Friday 5th September I gave the Open Data Institute‘s weekly Lunchtime Lecture about The Great British Public Toilet Map.

You can listen again/flick through the slides to my talk ‘Excuse me, where is the toilet (data)?

The ODI have also written a blog post to summarise it, ‘How open data can help us all to find the toilet

Thank you, ODI, for inviting me to do this.




September 22, 2014 at 3:02 pm Leave a comment

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