What is happening to Britain's public toilets?

What is happening to Britain's public toilets?
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Spending a penny has never been such a troublesome business. Find yourself needingto go in any town, city or village and chances are you won’t find a public loo.  That’s because between 2010 and 2013, one in seven public toilets have been closed by local authorities and in the last decade 1,782 loos have shut.

Now in some big cities, such as Newcastle, you won’t find a single council-run public loo, while in Manchester there’s just one single public convenience to serve a population of 514,000 (I’d hate to see the queue for
the Ladies!)

It would be laughable stuff, were it not for the fact toilets are a pretty basic human necessity. Should you feel the need while out in town, your options are to hold it in (not medically advised for anyone, and sometimes out of the question if you are disabled, pregnant or have a health condition); traipse to the very top floor of a department store (why do they never have ground floor loos?); sneak into a café, restaurant or pub loo, where you may find the doors locked to non-customers, be subject to the glares of the staff or feel obliged to buy something while there.

Out and about in countryside areas – unless you’re in a tourist hot-spot where public loos are still generally in decent numbers – you’ll find even fewer options, sometimes leaving you little choice but to find a hedge.

So why the shortage? The main problem is that, perhaps surprisingly, councils are under no obligation to provide public lavatories, so when the next council funding cuts come around, loos are generally the first things to go. Some authorities have instead paid pubs, cafés and coffee shops to allow us to use their facilities.

This system operates under the Community Toilet Scheme, but it’s not always clear when this is the case, and not everyone feels comfortable going into a pub to use the loo, especially at busy times or if you have the grandchildren in tow. Other public loos have been outsourced to private companies but using them can be costly. ‘Spending a penny,’ can in some cases become spending £1!

Meanwhile, countless public loos have been sold for redevelopment and turned into wine bars, nightclubs, coffee shops or even fast food eateries!

A place to safely and privately go to the loo is surely a marker of a civilised society and continuing to strip back public lavatories is only going to cause frustration, upset and even stop some of us from making trips because we fear getting caught short. When China is planning 25,000 new public loos to attract tourists, isn’t it odd that Britain is going in the other direction?


If you can’t wait...

  • If you suffer with IBS, you can sign up for a Can’t Wait card that lets you access toilet facilities in offices or stores when you need them. Call the IBS Network on 0114 272 3253 or visit www.theibsnetwork.org
  • If you are disabled you can purchase a Radar Key for about £5 which gives you urgent access to toilet facilities that may normally be locked. Radar Keys can be bought from local authorities or the Disability Rights UK shop (02072 50 8191, visit crm.disabilityrightsuk.org/radar-nks-key)
  • To find your nearest public loo, visit The Great British Public Toilet Map greatbritishpublictoiletmap.rca.ac.uk