Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Public house, public toilet?

In a move that is billed as both saving costs and improving facilities, Stockport Council are planning to introduce a “Community Toilet Scheme”. This will involve closing current council-run public toilets and allowing the public to use existing toilets in business premises, for which the owners will receive an annual fee. On the face of it, it sounds like a win-win situation, but in reality it may prove much more problematical.

For a start, how many businesses actually have toilet facilities that are actually extensive or robust enough to cope with being heavily used by members of the public? How many have nappy-changing facilities or proper disabled provision? And, in general, toilets are tucked away at the back of the premises so can only be accessed by walking through areas where public access may cause a problem.

Inevitably the spotlight is likely to fall on pubs and restaurants, but a major problem there is that many do not open until 11 am or midday, whereas in a town centre there is a demand for public toilets from 9 am or even earlier. And it will need to be properly publicised, with signposts erected and maps produced and distributed through libraries, doctors’ surgeries and information centres. It’s no use just putting a little sticker in the window.

Perhaps it could work in a rural area where the only users will be a few motorists, cyclists and ramblers, but you can see it leading to all kinds of problems in large towns and cities. Will business owners really want to expose themselves to all the problems associated with public toilets such as drug use, sexual activity, theft of supplies, soiling, vandalism and graffiti? At present, a business owner can control the people who use his facilities, but if they are thrown open to the public this will no longer be possible. How much would the licensee of a town-centre pub think he needed to be paid to justify all the extra work and hassle? Many town-centre pubs, of course, currently have notices on the door saying “Our toilets are for customer use only”.

If it works, good luck to them, but I have serious doubts that it will prove a success, and in the longer term will just lead to a further erosion of already inadequate public toilet provision. The number of declared “community toilets” will never be sufficient and will be whittled away year by year. While it is not a statutory duty on councils to provide public toilets, surely businesses in town and village centres have a reasonable expectation when they pay their business rates that part of them will be used to provide such facilities alongside pavements and streetlighting. And can we be sure that before cutting expenditure on services that are actually used by people on a day-to-day basis, Stockport Council have eliminated all the politically correct non-jobs such as lesbian outreach workers and five-a-day co-ordinators?

4 comments:

  1. This bothers me a lot. Owing to our remote location we often get ramblers, lost motorists and other such passers by using the toilets without any silver crossing my palm. Of course many have the decency to come to the bar and voluntarily buy something with the words "It would be rude not to buy something after using your facilities".

    We try very hard to be grateful to the considerate ones and not to feel antagonistic to the others. However, the inconsiderate ones are often the ones that leave the most mess, interestingly.

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  2. Don't think it's a good idea at all. Sounds like Stockport Council are shirking their responsibilities. Do they want to encourage shoppers and visitors to their town? or are they trying to drive them away? Have they no pride in their town? Do they want people urinating in the streets?
    I don't know their political make-up, but agree with you Curmudgeon that if they do have any PC non-job positions then this is the area to make cuts!

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  3. Stockport is Liberal Democrat controlled although, to be fair, in many respects they seem to be better run than neighbouring councils such as Manchester or Tameside.

    A Community Toilet Scheme has been introduced in Richmond, apparently with some success.

    I am distinctly sceptical, but I don't dismiss it out of hand. It is better than just shutting down all the public toilets as some other councils have done or tried to do. One of the main concerns of the blog post was that it potentially could cause a lot of problems for business owners, especially pub licensees.

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  4. We have been offered this by the local authorities. For allowing absolutely anyone onto the premises to use the toilets, which the letter even states we have to maintain to a respectable standard, we are entitled to... £400 a year. £500 if we had a disabled toilet. If they show me a clean, presentable and well kept public toilet that they spend £400 a year on, then I'll be more tempted to take part...

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