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Convenient plan for pub toilets

7 March 08 18:44 GMT
By Kevin Leonard
BBC Wales news website

I'll confess straight away to having used pub toilets when caught short while out shopping.

Yes, I've felt some twinges of guilt about sneaking in without even buying so much as a diet cola.

Thankfully for people like me, the Welsh Assembly Government is trying to increase the number of public toilets available across Wales.

This could involve giving grants to pubs and petrol stations to allow us in at their convenience, even if we're not buying anything.

This could be good news when the provision of public toilets appears to be in decline. The most recent figures, while not including every public toilet, suggested that the number of loos in Wales had fallen from 762 in 1995 to 671 in 2005.

That still sounds like a heck of a lot of toilets to me, so I went out to find out what it was like to be caught short in a typical Welsh town.

I headed to Pontypridd, where I grew up, confident in the knowledge I could remember where the public conveniences could be found.

My first stop was at the Taff Vale shopping precinct in the centre of town, where I vividly remembered a rather unpleasant spot.

I wasn't hugely surprised to discover that this particular convenience was closed, particularly as there are plans to knock down the whole precinct and replace it with a new shopping centre, which will hopefully include some public toilets.

The local council later told me that they had been closed due to staff being "harassed and placed in dangerous situations by members of the public who abuse the use of the public toilets".

My next plan was to stop and ask people in the street where to go - but many of the shoppers I spoke to suggested none other than the precinct.

Denise Williams, 56, was one of those and couldn't think of anywhere else where there was a public toilet in the town centre. She wasn't too keen on the idea of me sneaking into a pub without buying a drink.

"I won't use a pub toilet. I would have to have a squash or a lemonade or something," she said.

I eventually headed to the bus station after taking advice from shoppers and was, naturally, relieved to find working public toilets.

Shelley Ahearne, information officer with Veolia Transport, told me the toilets were open pretty much during office hours during the week and Saturday, but closed on Sunday.

There was also a disabled toilet that could now only be opened by a special key because, she said, people had been found using drugs in there.

This may help explain why public toilets can be quite costly to maintain.

But what would landlords in Pontypridd think of people walking in off the street to use their toilets, albeit with some kind of cash incentive?

Lee Bayliss, bar manager at the Bunch of Grapes, had an enlightened attitude.

"We're on the Taff Trail, so we quite often have people coming in without buying a drink," he said.

"I don't mind at all. We're a public house and we're in the community for people to come in.

"But I'd be quite happy to accept money from the assembly!"

John Jones, landlord at the Llanover Arms, was less keen on people who sneaked in to his pub to use the toilet.

"People do use it a lot anyway, which is a bit annoying," he said.

"If they ask, I don't mind so much but people wander in and wander out.

Proper toilets

The assembly government's idea of possibly using pubs caused quite a debate in the Llanover when I mentioned it to the regulars.

David Jones was one of those who was strongly against the idea.

"Do you really want to take your grandchildren to a pub to the toilet?" he said.

"That's ridiculous to me. You should have proper toilets."

Other people in the town centre were more positive about the suggestion, including 17-year-old Emma Price.

"It's a good idea. There's not many toilets around here," she said.

There was just time for me to head down Broadway where I was glad to see that a somewhat controversial toilet had stood the test of time.

It's better now, but you used to stand behind a wall, hoping that no trains went past on the elevated line behind because passengers could see exactly what you were doing. It was a time when the public loo was not always so private.

  • For those of you shopping in Pontypridd, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council tell me that besides the bus station toilets, there are also public loos on Sardis Road and at Pontypridd market.
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