Private partnership for public convenience
By Jim Pickard, Political Correspondent
Published: February 22 2008 22:12 | Last updated: February 22 2008 22:12
The public convenience could be consigned to history under government proposals to shift provision to the private sector.
It is understood that Hazel Blears, communities secretary, plans a strategy in which councils will be encouraged to pay restaurants, pubs and bars to let the public use their facilities.
Participating venues would receive up to £1,000 a year.
But the number of public lavatories in the UK, which has been dwindling in recent years, is likely to plummet as a result.
The British Toilet Association, which campaigns for better provision, says the number of facilities has halved in a decade.
Richmond upon Thames introduced a pilot scheme whereby 66 venues were each paid £600 a year to make their facilities available to the non-paying public. Stickers on their entrances and signs on nearby lampposts advertise the fact.
The Department for Communities and Local Government will next month urge other councils to follow suit. It will express “growing public concern” at the declining number and standard of public lavatories.
The government believes the public do not care who provides and maintains toilets as long as there are enough of them and they are accessible. Other measures in the DCLG document include the wider use of “SatLav”, which is used by Westminster’s council to send text messages to people allowing them to find the nearest public toilet.
It will also urge more loos be built in new developments such as sports arenas.
In the 1980s Richmond had about 30 public lavatories but this was down to 13 when it began the pilot scheme three years ago.
Since then, the council of the London borough has been able to cut the number to just four, according to Martin Elengorn, Richmond’s cabinet member for the environment.
Mr Elengorn said it was cheaper to pay the 66 participating businesses than run the 13 public toilets – let alone pay for their wear and tear. Some of the former WCs have been sold on by the council.
An incentive for pubs and restaurants is the possibility of attracting passing trade. “Some cafés and pubs find people come in [to use the toilets] and think – nice pub, I’ll come back,” Mr Elengorn said.
If this policy were replicated elsewhere, it could see public toilets disappear further from the streets. This is in contrast to many other developed countries, such as Australia, where clean, well-maintained public conveniences are taken for granted.