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The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has called on local councils to help businesses open their toilets to the public to ease the problems caused by the lack of public lavatories.

Johnson wants every London borough to sign up to the Community Toilet Scheme, which provides businesses with small grants to open their toilet facilities to the public. The scheme is already running successfully in several boroughs.

“The Community Toilet Scheme is a common sense and cost effective solution to the lack of public toilets in London. It is also an ingenious way around the high costs normally associated with running them,” the Mayor said.

According to a London Assembly report, there were just 419 public toilets across London in 2004, down from 500 in the year 2000.

Hammersmith and Fulham council say there is only one council-run public convenience in the whole of Shepherd's Bush: an automatic one on the pavement outside the main Post Office. There are just five other similar toilets throughout the whole borough, and four H&F parks have toilet facilities.

Councillor Paul Bristow, Cabinet Member for Residents' Services, said: "We will certainly have a look at the Community Toilet Scheme to see if this might benefit our residents, but it is very early days and no decisions have been made."

The Community Toilet Scheme began in Richmond in 2005. The borough’s Cllr Martin Elengorn, Cabinet Member for Environment and Planning, said: “The Community Toilet Scheme is an innovative idea where the Council supports local pubs, cafes and shops with an annual sum in exchange for which they welcome visitors to use their toilets freely and without having to make a purchase. We now have 75 premises signed up all over the borough. Since the scheme was introduced, we now have more toilets, kept clean and safe and open for longer hours than ever before.”

The lack of public facilities in many places poses a particular problem for older Londoners, those with disabilities and families with young children.

Pamela Holmes, Head of Healthy Ageing at Help the Aged said it was a serious matter: “Toilet humour might be funny – but not being able to go out due to a lack of public toilets is a daily reality for more than half of older people. With social isolation becoming an increasing and very real problem, it’s great that the Mayor is urging councils in the capital to take a lead by making it easier to access toilets. Help the Aged has called for a change in the law to make it a duty for local authorities to provide more toilets in public places.”

The London Assembly report praises Westminster for its public facilities: "Westminster has some of the best public toilet provision in the country and it costs the council some £2.5 million a year to operate these facilities, either directly or through various other contracts.”

The report also asks the question: “Why do women always have to queue”? It concludes: “We read with particular interest about New York City’s initiative to require all new and renovated buildings to have twice as many toilets for women as for men.

"We believe Londoners would support a similar position here and recommend that the Mayor should require a 2:1 female-to-male ratio for toilets in new developments over which he has control – and should encourage local authorities to do the same.”

August 13, 2008