UK

Public toilets 'wiped out in parts of UK'

Gentlemen sign outside a public convenience at South End Green near Hampstead Heath, north London

Some UK High Streets and public spaces no longer have any council-run public toilets, the BBC has learned.

At least 1,782 facilities have closed across the UK in the last decade, Freedom of Information requests found.

Ten areas, including Newcastle, Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales and Wandsworth in south London, now have no council-run public toilets at all, data showed.

The Local Government Association said councils were trying to keep toilets open but faced squeezed budgets.

Public toilets have existed on UK High Streets for more than 150 years but there is no legal requirement for local authorities to provide toilets, meaning they are often closed down if councils feel they cannot afford the upkeep.

Raymond Martin, of the British Toilet Association, said providing toilets was about health, wellbeing, equality and social inclusion.

"It's also about public decency and public dignity - we don't want people being forced to urinate in the streets," he said.


Reinventing the WC

While most closed sites have been demolished or left empty, many have undergone extreme makeovers.

A WC in Clapham, south London, was misused and lay derelict for 40 years. Now it is a wine bar and the WC stands for wine and charcuterie, not water closet. But planning permission for its conversion came with a condition.

"If someone comes down, unsuspecting that it's a wine bar - and this happens every day - we let them use the toilet. That's what we have to do. And it works," says owner Jayke Mangion.

Alongside a large number of village shops and cafes, more imaginative conversions include a dog grooming service in Portsmouth, a vodka bar and recording studio in Camden, north London, a nightclub in Boston, Lincolnshire, a noodle bar in Devon and fast food outlets in Eastbourne and Moray.

Old toilets now house art galleries in the south London boroughs of Kingston and Lambeth, information centres in Hambleton, North Yorkshire, and Haringey, north London, and there is even a Burns National Heritage Centre in an old facility in South Ayrshire.


Joan Dean said her husband Brian, who has Parkinson's Disease, was left humiliated when he wet himself after failing to find a toilet on a trip to Levenshulme, in Manchester, where 18 toilets have been closed in the last 10 years.

She told BBC Breakfast she asked four High Street shops if her husband could use their facilities, but all refused.

"Public toilets - no matter where you go, you can't get them. We've had the problem but how many people out there have had the problem and said nothing? I don't want anyone to go through what he went through," she added.

Data supplied by 331 of the 435 councils contacted by BBC Breakfast also showed:

  • 22 councils now only have one public toilet, including Manchester, Stockport and Tamworth
  • The best served areas are mostly tourist destinations
  • Highland Council has 127 public toilets, which cost more than £1m a year to maintain; Pembrokeshire 73; Cornwall 65
  • Four out of five councils have cut spending on public toilets since 2011
  • Overall expenditure has declined by almost a third in four years, with £21m less spent last year than in 2011
  • 43 councils have slashed their budgets by more than 70%

A Local Government Association spokesman said councils were doing everything they could to keep public toilets open, including running community toilet schemes to enable pubs, restaurants and shops to make their toilets available to the public.

Cuts meant councils had less to spend on community services and the next few years would continue to be a challenge, he said.

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