‘Elements for a successful community toilet scheme in Bristol are missing’

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Suzanne Audrey is an executive member of Bristol Walking Alliance

Access to public toilets is important for us all when we are out and about, and especially for older people, children, disabled people, pregnant or menstruating women, people with a range of health conditions, homeless people, and mobile workers such as drivers and police officers.

Bristol Walking Alliance (BWA) is one of a number of organisations across the city pushing for improvements to Bristol’s public toilet provision: we believe that local authorities, businesses and voluntary sector organisations can all play a part.

There is no statutory duty for local authorities to provide public toilets and, in 2018, Bristol City Council closed 18 public on-street toilets while launching a community toilet scheme. But BWA believes that the council does have a role in ensuring adequate public toilet provision across the city.

A review is required to assess the distribution, type and quality of toilet facilities, together with an assessment of need. Costs and benefits of different provision should be considered, including the impact of charging for some facilities and opportunities to combine public toilets with other services such as information centres.

To supplement the council’s provision, an appropriate policy should be included in Bristol’s emerging Local Plan requiring public toilet facilities in larger mixed-use developments.

Under Bristol’s current community toilet scheme, businesses and organisations are encouraged to allow public access to their toilet facilities with no obligation to make a purchase, signs should be displayed in the windows of participating premises, and a list of community toilet facilities is published on the council’s website.

But some elements for a successful community toilet scheme are missing including: annual payments for participating organisations to cover the costs of additional toiletries and cleaning; sufficient monitoring to ensure facilities are accurately described, and; clear on-street signage to inform the public that a community toilet scheme is in operation.

‘Just Can’t Wait’ cards, enabling people with specific health conditions to request the use of toilets in premises that may not be part of the community toilet scheme, should also be supported and promoted.

Toilet facilities for disabled people should be available across the city and Changing Places, with more space and specialised equipment, should also be available at key sites.

In times of austerity, ‘difficult choices’ are cited as a reason to withdraw resources from non-statutory services. But public toilet provision is an equalities issue that must not be side-lined.

BWA is pleased to be part of the emerging Bristol Public Toilets Equalities Task Group which already comprises 18 different organisations from across the city. The aim is to keep this important issue firmly on the agenda.

Bristol City Council issued a response to this story - and highlighted the full list of places available through the Community Toilet Scheme, which can be found on the council website.

A spokesperson for the council said: “Bristol now has 156 facilities taking part in our Community Toilet Scheme, which is far more than the number of public toilets available before the scheme was introduced. The majority of these new sites are accessible to meet a range of needs. There are also a number of Changing Places Toilets in public venues across Bristol as part of the scheme.

“Throughout the last year our Community Marshal team have been working with members of Bristol’s Community Toilet Scheme, who kindly allow the public to use their toilet facilities free of charge, to improve signage at their premises and raise awareness and understanding with their staff. We are happy to support ‘Just Can’t Wait’ cards and, if there is a local need, can help with supplying these cards.”