What can councils do for public toilets?


What can Local Authorities do for public toilets?

Ollie Bradfield, Local Policy Adviser

The CFPI has launched a campaign urging the national government to support the provision of public toilets. While local councils manage these facilities, fundamental change must come from the top to improve access to this essential infrastructure. 

However, no progress can be made without local councils. We’ve outlined a few changes that local authorities can make to improve access to toilets.

Increase visibility

Local councils can start by better signposting existing toilets. Many, particularly those within public buildings, are not displayed at street level. Knowing where toilets are located is crucial, as the anxiety caused by not knowing can isolate vulnerable individuals. 

Extend operating Hours

Many public toilets are only open during the working day, sometimes closing as early as 4 pm, imposing a “loo curfew” on people with clinical conditions. Extending the opening hours, especially during summer months, will enable more people to enjoy public spaces for longer and address the issue of public urination in the evenings.

“Spend a penny” Initiatives

The Royal Society for Public Health proposes adding a penny levy to public transport transactions to fund the construction and maintenance of public toilets. This initiative could generate significant funds, offsetting costs and supporting existing and new toilets. In Bristol, this would raise almost £300,000 a year if the levy were added to bus journeys alone.

Use Section 106 Powers

Under current planning law, councils can require developers to contribute to local infrastructure, including the construction and administration of public toilets. This can be done either through direct construction or cash contributions. For example, a council might ask new supermarkets or office villages to build and administer publicly available toilets within their premises as a condition of development.

The Levelling Up Bill makes substantial changes to planning law – including replacing the existing Section 106 powers with an Infrastructure Levy. The Bill sets out what it considers ‘infrastructure’ to be, though it is non-exhaustive, including ‘sports and recreation’ and ‘medical’ facilities. It is hoped that if not directly identified, toilets will be taken to be within the spirit of this provision. The CFPI will issue further guidance when this becomes clear.

Community Toilet Schemes

While not a sufficient solution on their own, Community Toilet Schemes can complement a broader public toilet strategy. Local councils can collaborate with businesses, inviting them to open their toilets to the public and providing appropriate signage. Incentives can be offered alongside the benefits of increased footfall to ensure high standards.

These actions, from signposting to leveraging planning laws and creating funding schemes, can enhance access to public toilets, improving the experience of community space for individuals with continence issues and the general public.