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We need to talk about Toilets

When I wrote over a year ago about the need to rethink public toilets, a journalist I know told me that the issue would not attract wider media attention because of what he described as “the yuck factor”.

Since then public toilets across the country continue to close and the need for them continues to grow– ask any older person, post-natal woman, man recovering from prostate cancer treatment or women experiencing menopause about the “loo leash” that constrains their lives and stops them from going out. In fact for something so yucky, improving and increasing the availability of public toilets has the enthusiastic support of most people, men and women, young and old.

Encouragingly, some chinks of light have begun to appear over the summer.

Earlier this month, as I was making coffee one morning and listening to the Today programme, the Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner was introduced on the Thought for the Day segment and proceeded to talk about her recent experience on the London Loo Tour and how this inspired her to advocate for more public toilets in London.She wrote about this later that week in the Times, describing how

“all of us are tethered to an invisible but debilitating leash. This leash limits many of our daily choices: where we can go and for how long. It can damage our health and ruin our afternoons. I am talking about the loo leash. Otherwise known as the appalling lack of public toilets across Britain”

Then the esteemed Economist came to the defence of public toilets, pointing out that

“British toilets are no longer Crapper; they are worse. The nation that gave the world the S-bend, the U-bend, the internationally used initialism of “wc”, and rebuilt its capital city to suit its sewage, is increasingly incapable of offering its residents usable public toilets”

Finally! Some journalists brave enough to take on the yuck factor!

And more good news follows:

Despite an initial reluctance to investigate how to install more public toilets on its network, the Mayor of London has just this week announced that TfL is planning to install more toilets on its network. According to Seb Dance, London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport,

“we’re looking at a study now on where that can be done. As is common with a lot of issues to do with accessibility on the network, of course, we’re dealing with the oldest network, in terms of the Underground, in the world”

This is a major step forward and credit must go to the tireless campaigners at Age UK London who published detailed research earlier this year on the lack of public toilet provision in London and who lobbied consistently and effectively to raise awareness of the impact a lack of public toilets has on the lives of elderly Londoners.

Credit also to the London Assembly which, under the leadership of Assembly Member and Chair of the Health Committee Caroline Russell, published its Toilet Paper late last year which was introduced with the question on many Londoners’ minds:

“Why is there a ‘toilet taboo’? Why are toilets considered a ‘nicety’ not a ‘necessity’? And why are there still not enough public toilets in London? Our investigation aimed to find out exactly what has happened to our toilets and, more importantly, how we can improve and increase provision across London”

The investigation received an unexpectedly large and enthusiastic response:

“In total, 3,504 Londoners completed our survey and shared their experiences with us. The results show that 91.3 per cent of respondents do not feel toilet provision is adequate to meet their needs in London; and 94 per cent said they found it quite difficult or very difficult trying to find a public toilet in London in an area they are not familiar with. The results of our investigation are clear – the decline in the number of public toilets is a threat to the health, mobility and equality of Londoners”

Now the Government is listening, and this month announced a

consultation on public toilets from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The Consultation on Toilet Provision in Buildings other than Dwellingscloses October 8th – you can respond via this link.

In light of these developments, I will be hosting a panel discussion on public toilets with Caroline Russell AM on behalf of The London Society in November, aiming to form a manifesto on public toilets for the mayoral elections next year. Further information forthcoming.

Out with the yuck factor, and in with the Health factor!

Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

August 24, 2023


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