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Monday, 28 February, 2000, 14:39 GMT
Save our loos plea
public toilets graphic
Public toilets, many dating back to Victorian times, face extinction, a pressure group has warned.

The British Toilet Association (BTA) says more and more shoppers, tourists and motorists have to nip behind a bush because there are not enough decent loos.

Now the BTA is to lobby MPs in an effort to restore the WCs for the public and beat the vandals and drug abusers.

It wants councils to be made to restore and maintain public toilets.

With vandalism and other forms of social misuse in public toilets at an all-time high, it is little wonder local authorities close them down to save money

BTA director Richard Chisnell
A survey by the association found that a third of all toilets run by Metropolitan Borough Councils and nearly a quarter provided by English District Councils closed over the last three years.

Between 1995 and 1998 the number of urban toilets fell by 292 to 611, while district councils closed a further 1,169, leaving only 4,138.

Last year more than 100 MPs signed an early day motion, by Cardiff North MP Julie Morgan, supporting the BTA's plans.

'Anti-social elements'

One council official told BBC News Online: "Vandalism is a big issue and the health and safety regulations are getting tighter.

"But public toilets also attract other anti-social elements, such as drug users, homosexuals, tramps and - even in our prosperous part of the country - 'ladies of the night'."

Richard Chisnell, director of the BTA, said: "The subject often sparks off giggles. But it's a serious matter.

"Our public toilet provision and culture is currently at a very low level."

Many councils, like Hillingdon in west London, have chosen to close down dark and dingy toilets and replaced them with continental-style "superloos".

But Mr Chisnell says there is a lot of "user resistance" towards superloos, which are often small, expensive and do not have disabled access.

A superloo
Superloos: "User resistance" a problem
One authority which sought to tackle the problem was East Hampshire District Council.

It is responsible for a largely rural corner of the south of England, including many villages.

East Hampshire began to pioneer a scheme known as "private provision", which means public houses, restaurants or churches agree to provide toilets for the general public in return for an annual sum from the council.

Keith Robinson, East Hampshire's external services manager, told BBC News Online: "It's a lot cheaper than building and maintaining public conveniences, which are often vandalised anyway, and has benefits for the public and the publican.

"They get a sum of money for doing nothing and there is also the possibility of them getting passing trade."

The council puts up a sign directing people to the pub's toilets.

In the village of Holybourne, near Alton, the council has adapted a toilet in a pub for use by the handicapped because of the presence, across the road, of a disabled facility.

'Keep out'

But Martin Lawrence, landlord of the Master Robert pub in Buriton, near Petersfield, pulled out of the scheme last year.

He told BBC News Online: "I didn't want crowds of walkers trudging through the pub to use the toilets.

"If you want to come in and use the toilet that's fine, but I'd expect somebody to have the courtesy to ask me or to buy half a pint of beer. After all, it's like someone walking into your house and using the toilet."

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