Page last updated at 09:01 GMT, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 10:01 UK

Councils 'must provide more loos'

Many public toilets have been closed in recent years

Councils should be forced to draw up a plan to improve the quality and availability of public toilets in their areas, a committee of MPs has said.

The communities and local government committee says action is needed to halt the decline in the number of toilets.

It says councils should consult local people before closing them and stop using laws aimed at helping disabled people as an excuse to tear them out.

But it stops short of saying councils should be made to provide loos by law.

"While the Public Health Act 1936 gives local authorities a power to provide public toilets, it imposes no duty to do so, and this lack of compulsion, together with a perception of nuisance associated with them, has arguably resulted in a steady decline in the provision of public toilets in recent years," the report says.

But it says imposing a statutory duty on local councils to provide toilets "goes against the move to empower local authorities to make their own decisions on what is important in their areas".


A glimpse inside a convenient British institution

Instead it recommends "that the government imposes a duty on each local authority to develop a strategy on the provision of public toilets in their areas, which should include consultation with the local community and which should be reviewed annually".

It adds: "The duty of compiling and reviewing a public toilet strategy is a simple requirement that will go a long way towards achieving the right of people who live in and visit this country to have accessible and clean public toilets, wherever they live, work or visit."

It is for councils themselves to develop their own mix of most effective, local approach, making sure their public toilets are as good as they can be
Baroness Andrews
Communities minister

No toilet should be closed unless there was "a strong case for it and after extensive consultation", the report warns.

Some public lavatories had been shut down by councils using the Disability Discrimination Act "as an excuse" - when they could easily be adapted to be accessible, the MPs say.

Local authorities were also failing to fully use powers to force restaurants and takeaways to provide toilets or include them in planning agreements, the report argues.

Community toilets

It concludes that a full survey of provision was required to assess the full extent of the present shortage, several years after such data stopped being collected centrally.

"It appears that the overall number of public toilets has declined in recent years, but the lack of reliable data makes it impossible to know for sure.

"We appreciate that there are costs associated with this data collection exercise, but it is essential for formulating a public toilet strategy."

The report also calls for improved signs - with a nationally recognisable symbol, leaflets and website information about location, opening times and costs of facilities.

And it urges councils to consider providing attended toilets, or regular inspections, to prevent people seeing public toilets as "threatening places" which it says are a magnet for anti-social behaviour and drug use.

The report also backs community toilet schemes, where local pubs, cafes and shops are paid an annual fee to allow the public to use their facilities.

But it says such schemes are "not appropriate everywhere and may only provide a partial solution to the adequate provision of public toilets".

Communities minister Baroness Andrews welcomed the report and said the government would be producing a detailed response in due course.

But she added that the government already had guidelines for local authorities on public toilets, which the committee had praised as a "useful tool".

"It is for councils themselves to develop their own mix of most effective, local approach, making sure their public toilets are as good as they can be," said the minister.

Shadow local government minister Bob Neill, for the Conservatives, blamed "reckless" 24 hour drinking laws for creating problems for local residents and accused the government of wanting to scrap free public toilets - a suggestion dismissed as "ridiculous" by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

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