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The BBC has taken some stick over recent years with accusations that it’s lost its impartiality. I’m forgiving it for the time-being as it’s just given some good coverage to the plight of our nation’s WCs.
In an article headed up: ‘How to survive without public toilets’, it draws attention to the fact that at least 1,782 public toilets have closed in the last decade, with some councils now offering no public facilities whatsoever. It brought in the British Toilet Association’s Raymond Martin, to comment.
One of the issues Ray and his colleagues (and indeed all of us) face is that councils don't have to provide public toilets. Under the 1976 Local Government Act, those in England and Wales can simply install them in places of entertainment and other ‘relevant places’.
That’s all very well if we’re in a ‘relevant place’ when we need the loo, but what if we’re not?
The 1986 Public Order Act means we could be prosecuted if ‘going outdoors’ is likely to "cause harassment, alarm or distress" to others. Urinating where you will not be seen, in a shop doorway, say, or behind bushes, is covered by local bylaws. Newcastle, which has no council-run public toilets whatsoever, has a bylaw, stating: "No person shall urinate or defecate in any public place." The maximum penalty is a £500 fine.
Where does that leave the people of Newcastle – apart from ‘at home’? And what about tourists and other visitors?
Some people will pop into a shop, pub or café – which Ray agrees can be embarrassing. Some will sneak in while others will ask first; but private businesses are not legally bound to provide free toilets for non-customers.
Some councils promote the Community Toilet Scheme, where businesses offering toilet facilities to non-customers display stickers in their windows. "Some businesses realise that having a toilet gets more people in, increasing footfall and takings,” offers Ray. That’s all very well if users leave the washroom clean…
The Great British Public Toilet Map shows where people can use the loo across the UK and Ireland and there are moves in Wales to compel councils to create a strategy ensuring public toilet provision across the area. "It's something that we could do with across the UK," says Ray. "Having decent public toilets is good for public health, business and the prevention of disease.
It’s also civilised. Having nowhere to go, is not!
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2nd June 2016