PUBLIC TOILETS: Cash boost for dwindling Debingshire conveniences
New legislation could help protect the dwindling number of public toilets as Denbighshire council announces the introduction of contactless payments to spend a penny.
The county added the ability to swipe a card to pay the 30p entrance fee to use toilets in Rhyl and Llangollen recently but the humble public lavatory could be about to get a cash boost, according the UK’s foremost crusader on the subject.
Raymond Martin, managing director of the British Toilet Association, was at the forefront of legislation – the Non Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories Bill) – recently granted Royal Assent which gives our councils some extra cash, hopefully to spend on maintaining and improving public toilets.
Local authorities such as Denbighshire won’t have to pay National Non-Domestic rates for public lavatories they will get 100% relief and probably some back pay.
The idea rates should be paid on what is an essential service annoys Mr Martin, who’s based at the BTA’s offices in Balloo Avenue (yes you read that right), Bangor, Northern Ireland.
He said: “Why do public toilets have rateable values? Lots of local authorities have been paying up to £10,000 a year for public toilets.
“When one council refreshed a public toilet block it was revalued and they upped the rates on it. We have lost up to 50% of public toilets over the last 10 years.”
The reason so many have gone down the drain is because there’s no statutory duty on councils to keep them – and cash is tight.
It’s a discretionary service, so local authorities will only maintain them with money left over and many have taken to charging for their use so the few left can be maintained.
“A world without our toilets would be terrible,” said Mr Martin. “Most retailers have closed their toilets because they are scared of the coronavirus.
“We would like to see free toilets but because of the costs of cleaning, maintenance and repairs lots of councils say ‘we need to put a charge on’.
“With a boom in staycations expected we are going to need public toilets or street urination will rise. It’s a public health issue.
“Public toilets are about health and well-being. They are about public inclusion and they help local economies.
“Toilets mean money, they keep people in towns. ”
The BTA has suggested a hygiene rating system, especially significant after the arrival of coronavirus, which it would be willing to administer.
It would work in a similar way to restaurant hygiene ratings but it would take investment and encouragement from Governments.
Yet there’s good news for us in Wales, with Welsh Government the first administration in the UK to require councils to publish a “toilet strategy” – with a review due again this year.
It’s something Mr Martin advised on in meetings with First Minister Mark Drakeford, a man he says is keen not to see us caught short.
That and a scheme which guarantees retailers and owners of premises open to the public up to £500 for being designated a “community toilet” are part of the fightback.
It means people can hopefully find a toilet without necessarily having to buy something when they’re out and about.
In North Wales there are quite a few community toilets but the best place to relieve yourself is undoubtedly Gwynedd, which has 63 public lavatories and 35 community toilets.
At the other u-bend of the spectrum Flintshire has just four public toilets but does list another 20 in its communities, including places like the Shell garage on the A55 – not that useful if your shopping in Shotton.
Denbighshire has around 20 public toilets and disabled users can purchase Radar keys to access suitable conveniences for £3.50 from the council.
Conwy has more than 50 public toilets and 21 community loos, while Anglesey has just three community lavatories to supplement the 14 public ones.
Wrexham has around 16 community conveniences across the county – according to the Welsh Government’s National Toilet Map – and eight public loos.
However one of those, in Rossett, has been earmarked for closure so it can be redeveloped into a community hub.
For the BTA’s Mr Martin, the crusade will continue until money and legislation means we can relax a bit more when out and about, safe in the knowledge we can find a toilet when needed.
He said: “We have been campaigning and lobbying government over the years.
“There’s no legislation to keep public toilets. There’s no duty on councils regarding public toilets.
“We believe the Government should put money into sanitation and hygiene. I don’t see why we should have to pay for that.”
Words: Jez Hemming, Local Democracy Reporter
Watch the channel on TV