Finding a toilet

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Toilets don’t have to be this luxurious

Public conveniences are important for visitors. Being away from home or accommodation means that clearly signposted toilets are necessary particularly if you have young children.

Ask a tourist about what they expect from a destination and toilet facilities will be on the list.

Those visiting heritage sites are usually catered for by organisations like the National Trust, English Heritage, Cadw and Historic Environment Scotland. Museums and large department stores also have facilities available. But seaside resorts tend to rely on local authority public conveniences and, in this economic climate, are there still as many as there once were? Up until now, evidence was patchy and relied on local media noticing when toilets were closed.

Now, BBC research that was released earlier this week, suggests that there are a greater number of closures than many might have believed.

The BBC used a Freedom of Information request to ask local authorities up and down our countries what closures there had been. 376 of the 430 councils replied saying 673 had closed.

This underestimates the position because the 54 that didn’t reply will have had some closures and may even be responsible for greater than average closures. And since some of those council areas represet some of our biggest coastal resorts the impact on visitors might be greater.

For the tourist – the holidaymaker and the day-out visitor – this decline presents a potential problem. After one visit to a destination it might even mean that people are reluctant to travel there again knowing that there are few or no toilets.

On its website, the BBC enables people to look at individual local authorities rather than just looking at the national picture.

even the local church in the German city of Nuremberg makes its toilet available for visitors during the August festival season.

In Pembrokeshire, a county that heavily relies on tourism, 19 out of 93 toilets have been closed in the last eight years, a drop of about 20%. In another big tourist area, the Isle of Wight, there are just six public toilets today whereas in 2010 there were 74. Can it really be acceptable that 68 should have to close?  In Cornwall, 233 have closed since 2011 leaving just fourteen for the public. Brighton and Hove City Council has closed 13 out of fifty and and Great Yarmouth, four out of 21.

In Scotland, Edinburgh has closed 12 out 0f 29 in the city and Highland Council, which covers a huge geographical area, closed 26 out of 118. Glasgow which had only seven public toilets in the first place has opened one new one.

Scarborough has closed not a single toilet and the council area for Redcar has increased the number of toilets, admittedly though, just be one.

Torbay Council – an area that covers the tourist hotspots of Torquay, Brixham and Paignton has closed just two out of the thirty they maintain. But that maintenance is not done by them; it has been farmed out to private contractors. Could contracting out be a solution to keeping toilets open?

Like many councils – Northamptonshire County Council is the obvious one that comes to mind – Torbay needs to make savings which might mean ending some maintenance contracts or introducing or increasing charges to those wanting to use toilets. At some London mainline stations such as Waterloo as well as Manchester Piccadilly, Leeds and Waverley in Edinburgh you can pay up to 30p to use a toilet although they will all be free again as from next year. Why are they becoming free? You would like to think that providing toilet facilities is coping with a basic need.

panoramic view of the Lake District

Although councils in the area covered by the Lake District operate few toilets the Park has over fifty

That doesn’t concern Copeland Borough Council in West Cumbria which includes places like Whitehaven and part of the Lake District National Park. It has closed all the public toilets for which it was responsible. Its neighbour, South Lakeland District Council which includes such tourist haunts as Windermere, Kendal, Coniston Water and much of the national  park had no public toilets in 2010 and still has none.

What these two councils seemingly show is that you can do away with toilet facilities in areas that attract vast numbers of visitors (almost to the point of tourism pollution) can manage without any public conveniences.  But that’s not the true story. The Lake District National Park operates fmore than fifty thus relieving councils of what should also be their responsibility.

Would tourists complain if they had to pay a small charge via an automated system if it meant that toilet facilities remained? I think not. It could even be arranged that locals living in the area could receive free entry as part of their council tax bills  thus removing many complaints that might be made.

Whatever happens, I hope the BBC repeats this exercise in a couple of years so we can see whether public toilet numbers continue to drop.

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