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The inconvenient truth about public conveniences

Published 14th September, 2023 by Vickie Hacking

Vickie Hacking

Vickie Hacking

Principal Advisor
Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE)
The British Cleaning Council

The inconvenient truth about public conveniences

Vickie Hacking, Principal Advisor, Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), reports.

A survey of local councils has found over 50% of respondents report public toilets provision has decreased in the last 10 years. The survey, conducted by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), highlights that due to the pressure on local authority budgets, there has been a decline in the provision provided by councils over this last decade. However, there is a strong case to be made for retaining public conveniences. Whilst respondents in the service report that they do not make a profit from their public toilets, the additional income to local economies, of “good toilet provision has been shown to increase retail turnover, tourist numbers and economic growth” according to Professor Clara Greed of the University of the West of England.

The responses from the survey show that over half of the respondents (54.02%) report that council provision has decreased or significantly decreased since 2012. By comparison, only 18.39% report that provision has increased or significantly increased in 2023. 25.29% of those surveyed report that the facilities provided have remained the same.

Just over a third of respondents report their authority is currently undertaking a review of provision. Budgetary pressures were stated as being the main driver of these reviews, with over half of respondents stating this to be the case in 2023, an increase from 40.30% in 2022.

Adaptation and strategies

Local councils worked very hard to adapt to the changing guidance throughout the pandemic so as to ensure public toilets remained open for key workers. Furthermore, when Covid restrictions were lifted, and people were utilising local parks, beaches and tourist attractions, local authorities worked just as hard to ensure there was provision available and the changing guidance was adhered to.

Based on the survey findings, APSE recommends that councils develop a clear strategy for their public conveniences, taking into consideration the local need and the future sustainability of the facilities. Local authorities should also explore methods of financing public conveniences such as charging or introducing complementary services such as café facilities, particularly with the roll-out of electric charging points in remote areas which require users to spend time in a location. Other options such as asset transfers to communities or town / village councils, comfort schemes that pay local businesses, or providing facilities in existing council buildings for use by the public (e.g., libraries, sports centres) should also be considered.

Recent press reports have highlighted the issues of so-called ‘wild toileting’ and the impact this has on local areas. Once such report in the Guardian – which cites APSE research – notes that ‘wild toileting’ can feel “threatening to a lot of women, and to men too”. This growing trend in ‘wild toileting’ would strongly suggest that, should public toilet provision continue to dwindle, this kind of unpleasant and anti-social behaviour will likely increase.

The provision of safe, clean and accessible facilities ensures that people with disabilities, pregnant women and older people who need regular access to toilets can have the confidence to visit the town centre, park or tourist attraction. For others in the community, it can encourage them to stay longer in the area.

It is important to ensure that consideration of public conveniences is an integral part of local place-based strategies, including the feasibility of walking and cycling routes, tourism developments and when considering a holistic approach to encourage physical activity in areas of green space and public realm.

The full survey and accompanying analysis – Local Authority Public Conveniences Provision 2023 - is available to download for free from the APSE website here.

For more information on this survey, please contact Vickie Hacking, APSE Principal Advisor, on vhacking@apse.org.uk

www.apse.org.uk

About the contributor

Vickie Hacking

Vickie Hacking

Principal Advisor

Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE)

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