Posts tagged ‘Wandsworth’
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.
What is a public toilet?
I keep talking about local authorities as the providers of public toilets. In reality I’m not quite that naive.
For there are many ‘publicly-accessible toilets’ that do not (or may not) fall under council control, e.g.
- Shopping Centres
- Transport Hubs (Train / Underground / Bus / Port)
Here’s a sliding scale of publicly-accessible toilets that I made.
Green is public sector, blue is private sector.
By ‘accessible’ I mean mentally, or legally, more than physically (accessible is often used to describe wheelchair-accessible facilities – that’s a whole other issue). Accessible is clearly not a great word to use – suggestions are welcome… Some of the ordering is a little dubious too…
Further down the scale most of the toilets are not ‘intended’ for the general public. Including these in maps and apps rather disadvantages those people who don’t wish to ask favours or blag it. Not really inclusive design…
My earlier map of the London Borough of Wandsworth toilets showed the council’s Superloos (marked in yellow) and Community Toilet Scheme (blue), but now it has all of the other publicly-accessible toilets too. This has added nearly 20 extra loos, more than some councils have in the first place!
Where did these extra toilets come from?
Open Data on public toilets is slim pickings. The government data website has just one result for public toilets, which comes from Brent (a .kml file), although you only get this if you search for ‘toilets’, not ‘toilet’, grr!
I also found a dataset for disabled toilets in Sutton through their own website. This .csv file lists twice as many toilets than their webpage on public loos does, so that’s some proof that datasets are easier to keep up to date. Although why only publish the disabled ones?
If there are other councils quietly releasing this info then please let me know. I asked my local councillor who got me data for my borough of Wandsworth (and he published it on the internet so it’s now ‘open’ too) with an impressive 56 toilets on it. I wanted to compare this to existing toilet finders, so I created a Google map.
[UPDATE: Hmm I’ve since updated this map for Public Toilets and … Wandsworth Part II, so it now shows far more toilets than it did originally. The council provision just covers the yellow (Superloo) and blue (community toilet scheme) markers.]