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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 September, 2004, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
Anger over public loos shortage
George White
George White is angered by toilet closure
At 83 years of age, George White knows what he wants.

For months his main wish has been pretty simple and, on the surface, fairly straightforward.

He wants the public toilets in his home town of Newton Aycliffe to be re-opened.

The toilet block closed earlier in 2004.

Ever since, George has campaigned passionately for them to be re-opened

"My concern is that if you come shopping and you need the toilet, then you must have the comfort of being able to go somewhere," said George.

That somewhere will eventually be at a new block in a park half a mile away from the town centre.

In the meantime, he says people have taken to using the doorway of a nearby boarded up shop as a temporary toilet.

"It is disgusting. People are having to do that because there are no toilets in the shopping centre," George said in despair.

Public petition ignored

George is not alone in his anger.

Public in-convenience?
Public toilet securely barred and locked

More than 1,600 people have signed his petition calling for the toilets to be re-opened but the gates remain firmly padlocked.

Great Aycliffe Town Council took the decision to close the loos.

The council said the existing block had electrical and water problems; is scheduled to be demolished soon anyway to make way for town centre redevelopment and the new ones will be much better.

In the meantime the council is advising shoppers to use the nearby leisure centre or supermarket.

The supermarket, Tesco, is not over the moon at the idea and says that its toilets are mainly for the use of its customers but a spokesman admits that if someone really needs to go, then they can pop past its aisles.

But it seems the closure in County Durham is not an isolated case.

Our survey said ...

A BBC survey has shown that local authorities have closed more than 180 public toilet blocks across the North East and Cumbria in the last 10 years.

Closure notice
Public toilets closed due to 'unsafe conditions'

Councils say the need to make all toilets fully accessible for those with disabilities, coupled with the fact that they are often costly to maintain and prone to vandalism, means they have little choice but to pull the plug.

The British Toilet Association (BTA) says money is the real reason.

The organisation, which promotes the "Loo of the Year Award", believes toilet closures are an easy target when it comes to saving cash.

And, perhaps more importantly, there is no government compulsion to provide loos at all.

'Away from Home' Toilet Charter
Adequate directions to the toilets
Proper signage
Adequate facilities for female toilet users
Hot and cold running water to wash basins
Provision for hand drying
Lockable toilet tissue dispensers
Sanitary disposal units
Fully equipped access toilets
Properly equipped baby change facilities
Effective cleaning regime
Source: British Toilet Association

Even so, Richard Chisnell, Director of the British Toilet Association, says public toilets can be a political hot potato: "Toilets have already proved that you can change the colour of councils.

"If only politicians can understand how important toilets are.

"Other countries can get it right, why can't we?", he insists.

With this in mind the BTA is taking out full page ads in the newspapers of the three main political parties at the 2004 party conferences.

The BTA wants councils to do more to maintain existing toilet provision and, if possible, open more.

But it says there has to be a political will and that needs to come from the government.

Richard Chisnell acknowledges he could have his work cut out.

Closures throughout region

Eden District Council in Cumbria is currently reviewing all of its public toilets provision.

It is hoping that parish councils and other groups will take over the running of some of its loos.

If not, then as many as 15 blocks across Eden could close.

Eden District Council is confident that some smaller councils will take over the responsibility for the loos.

In many cases there are other toilets close by which those in need can use instead.

It is even prepared to help with some of the initial running costs if the loos are taken off its hands.

If the cubicle doors are permanently locked in places such as Nenthead, Alston and Appleby, it will only add to the toll of loos the region has lost.

But Richard Chisnell and his team push on.

"It is a sad reflection of life today that there are so many things more sexy for politicians than public toilets."

Politics Show

Is a public loo near you closed?

Let us know what you think.

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That is the Politics Show, Sunday 12 September at 12.30pm with Richard Moss and Tony Baker.

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