Agenda for Scrutiny Panel on Publicly Accessible Toilets on Tuesday, 26th February, 2013, 10.00am
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Agenda and draft minutes
Venue: Committee Room 1, Hove Town Hall. View directions
The Chair opened by thanking people for coming to give evidence to the final meeting of this scrutiny panel, which was focussing on looking at the way forward for this service. She explained that Cllr Pete West was not able to attend the meeting due to the ill-health of a family member and time was given for the panel and witnesses to read his submission (see attached).
There were no declarations of interest or party whips.
Minutes of the previous meeting
The draft minutes of the previous meeting on 11th February 2013 are to follow.
Panel members accepted the draft minutes of the previous meeting on 11th February as provisional, as 2 witnesses from the previous meeting had not made any alterations.
Witnesses will include:
Cllr Pete West, Chair of the Environment & Sustainability Committee
Mike Bone, Chairman, British Toilet Association
Tim Nichols, Head of Regulatory Services, BHCC
The panel began by raising a number of issues in relation to Cllr Pete West’s submission.
Q: Has the contract for the Roedean mini golf course been let?
Jenny Cooke (JC) told the panel that the lease for the café had been re-signed and was in operation and they hoped to have the lease for the course signed and then operational again in April 2013.
Q: It is good to see that council intends to ‘focus its efforts in the areas it’s most needed’ including the council opening up its own toilets. However I understand that the toilets in Hove Car Park will now only be open at the weekend? This was a surprise because it was a busy site.
JC explained that this change formed part of the budget savings which had been agreed last February. These toilets would now only be open on weekends and bank holidays and this had been agreed due to the alternative provision at Hove Town Hall and Goldstone Villas. The toilet will still have an attendant when it is open.
The panel felt that this threw into relief the issue that this was not a statutory service which local authorities had a ‘power’ not a ‘legal duty’ to provide, so was vulnerable to changes due to budgetary pressures ,which could be reflected in the recommendations.
Q: Would it be possible to enter into joint procurement arrangements with neighbouring authorities?
JC confirmed that the current contract with Wettons ended in 2017 and that a nearby authority had recently approached the Scrutiny Team about entering into such discussions, which may be able to achieve some savings. This will be considered for future contracts.
The panel confirmed that it had not been possible to secure a witness from the hospitality sector to come and give evidence to the panel and would welcome ideas on how to engage with this sector.
British Toilet Association
Mike Bone, (MB) told the panel that the British Toilet Association (BTA) had been established in 1999 and represented all types of providers, suppliers and users of toilets in the UK. It was a not-for-profit organisation based in Bangor, Northern Ireland and their President was Sir William Lawrence. Members of the BTA included the Changing Places charity. The management committee included representatives from local authorities (including JC on behalf of BHCC), commercial suppliers and those representing their own private concerns such as disabilities.
The first focus of the BTA had been on lobbying government on the need for public toilets and in 2008 assisted the Communities and Local Government team (CLG) in the production of a Strategic Guide on the issue. A Select Committee was then established as a number of MPs felt the need to pursue this issue. However the provision of public toilets has still not been made a statutory requirement.
Since then the change of government and the worsening economic climate has meant that it did not feel right to lobby central government and the focus has moved to local government. This has included lobbying councils who were shutting services and increasing the amount of advice given to providers.
It was essential for providers to understand what users want and ensure that the services meet their needs.
The BTA was a founder member of the World Toilet Association, a member of the British Cleaning Council and a partner in Bog Standard (a campaign to promote better standards of toilets for pupils http://www.bog-standard.org/). The BTA had been involved in setting BS 6465 for Sanitary Installations.
MB was the Managing Director of the Loo of the Year awards in which facilities were judged against 100 criteria and could be awarded a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum. The BTA were looking for more, and better, toilets in the UK.
Q: Brighton & Hove has won loo of the year award, which of their facilities were successful?
MB explained that last year, 34 of the city’s toilets had been entered in the competition and all of these facilities had been graded between Gold-Silver. There was a national league for local authority toilets in which points were awarded depending on the number of toilets entered into the competition and then points for each grade awarded e.g. 6 points for Platinum. Brighton & Hove had been graded as the top local authority in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but had not yet won the ‘overall’ award. Only five councils had won the overall ‘local authority’ national award (includes schools and leisure centre toilets) including:
· Staffordshire in 2012
Q: What are these national award winning local authorities doing?
MB explained that Ceredigion County Council had spent a lot of money, was continuously upgrading its facilities, placed a high priority on provision and had very inclusive facilities including Changing Places toilets. Staffordshire County Council performed well over a range of categories including leisure centres and schools.
Q: A lot of the provision in Brighton & Hove is made up of converted buildings, but what is the best type of toilet facility if you are starting from scratch?
MB believed that this depended on what needs you want to meet, for example:
Variations in facilities could include being built from scratch, purpose built, delivered by a trailer or being an automatic toilet. An example is the ‘pissoir’ which is an open urinal that has been installed by a number of towns and cities in drinking areas. These facilities can be used by up to four men at a time and collect the urine of 1,500 people in a night. This presented a significant alternative to people urinating in shop windows.
Q: Is the ‘pissoir’ as demountable as do not need to sink into the ground, and are they cheaper? Since there are no funds for this kind of facilities, are there any examples of where businesses, such as pubs and clubs, have agreed to set up or fund such facilities?
MB explained that Brighton & Hove had been a forerunner in setting up a ‘community’ or ‘partnership toilet scheme’ which was a voluntary scheme that did not pay participants. The schemes which did remunerate businesses ranged from £600 to £1,000 per annum. He did not feel that any local authority had succeeded fully with such a scheme, and problems they had encountered included:
MB mentioned three local authorities which were still operating such a scheme. The originator, Richmond, did not seem to be effective in the opinion of MB as it was not possible to locate the signs. In Bristol there were 40 organisations opening up their toilets, however MB was not sure whether these facilities were inspected, maintained to a specific standard or accessible. He was concerned that a lot of businesses did not have fully accessible toilets.
MB believed that you needed to spend sufficient money on setting up such a scheme, including:
This scheme could only work as a business proposition, rather than expecting organisations to help you out because local authorities could not afford to pay for toilets.
Q: It appears that lack of funding is the perennial problem for this service, are there any successful ways of getting external funding?
MB explained that the starting point needs to be to agree a strategy which included:
JC told the panel that she agreed that attendants reduced costs by lowering vandalism, which can be major as a few years ago a number of toilets in the city were set fire to. When savings had to be found last year, the number of hours worked by attendants was reduced, but this did mean that ASB rose and costs went up. Charging seemed to succeed where there was no alternative free toilet to resort to. In Brighton & Hove there was always a nearby facility which was not charged for.
The panel recognised the benefits that could accrue from a strategy for publicly accessible toilets.
JC gave an example of the benefits of taking a strategic overview, where leases in parks could be let and the responsibility for the existing public toilet be included, or the café could be expected to provide their own, then this could free up funding for provision where it was needed in another location in the city.
MB emphasised the potential for gaining sponsorship for toilet facilities and Wettons were an example of this in Brighton and Hove. Other potential sources of funding included s.106 and CIL, e.g. Tesco’s having to pay for a local toilet in the West Country.
Q: Brighton & Hove seems good for toilets compared to other local authorities, what happens to towns like Southampton when all the public toilet provision is closed down?
MB emphasised the need to look at the user perspective. This city needed to provide both car parks and toilets, if it wanted to cater for:
In his experience those local authorities who have shut public toilets have provoked a large local reaction and very few of these councils have closed all the facilities. There was a high level of opposition, especially where there was a significant population of people with disabilities or there were few alternative toilet facilities. For example, Cornwall County Council and Torbay threatened to close its toilets 18 months ago, but have yet to do so. Where the whole toilet provision had been closed down in a location, such as in smaller towns, it was an indication of a place in decline. This was most likely to happen in locations where trade was down and accompanied shops and businesses shutting down too. This could lead to a situation where only a big supermarket, such as Tesco, was the only business left open in the area when all other firms had closed down.
MB believed that if you looked at the perception of users, then you would find a solution to providing toilets in your locality.
Q: What alternative sources are there for funding Changing Places toilets?
MB gave examples of Changing Places toilets being funded by ASDA (Sheffield), Gatwick Airport and Network Rail. It was essential to talk to local organisations rather than it being assumed that local authorities could be relied upon to provide these facilities. He believed that s.106 and CiL could also be used to fund Changing Places toilets. In some local authorities, Social Services had opened up Changing Places facilities in day centres, up to public access. There were 3 elements to the cost of setting up a Changing Places toilet:
At £20,000-£25,000 the cost of the toilet in Brighton & Hove was at the higher end of the scale for Changing Places toilets.
Q: The city has received some publicity recently about its gender neutral toilet provision, what is your view?
MB told the panel that unisex toilets were a great idea, especially when it was only possible to provide one unit in a location.
JC informed the panel that the only change had been for the council to refer to the units as gender neutral, rather than unisex, in order to better meet the Equalities Act. The form of toilet provision had been the same for a number of years:
The council had just put a sign on the fencing for the unit in Rottingdean to explain why the sign was being changed. TH added that this notice had been conflated with the recent Trans scrutiny report, where no link existed.
Q: It would be useful to have suggestions of partners we could seek to help us secure funds to meet the needs of the night time economy
MB told the panel that he was aware of different kinds of toilets being used, including:
MB finished by offering his support to Brighton & Hove, who had one of the highest number of publicly accessible toilets in the country (83). He felt that these facilities were quite well maintained and inclusive, however there were maintenance issues. He offered the help of the BTA with the development of a strategy as they had worked with other authorities such as Bath, Belfast and Westminster.
Regulatory Services, BHCC
Tim Nichols (TN), Head of Regulatory Services explained that there were four key relevant areas:
Section 20: If a business was providing entertainment it has to provide toilets to a certain ration. A standard for Brighton & Hove was developed in 1983. If a business did not provide this they could be served with a notice and then failure could result in a prosecution or being served with a disnotice. Generally this has not been needed as a remedy since the 1980s, as standards tend to be complied with when planning permission is complied with. There is a sliding scale of expected provision from 1 gender neutral unit per 15 customers. However this standard does apply to customers.
Regulatory climate: officers were conscious of the need to be able to justify regulation and ensure that they were enabling the creation of economic growth.
Late night levy: TN felt that it was unlikely that this levy could be used for this purpose as it was meant for Police and councils to use for extra enforcement costs. Therefore he was concerned that this could be subject to challenge if the levy was used to fund publicly accessible toilets. However no-one had imposed the levy, so it was not known how it could be used.
Night time economy: The council had a partnership with a number of organisations relating to the night time economy, but felt it was unlikely that we could persuade them to open up their premises to the general public as the organisation would be already engaged in controlling their capacity and ensuring that they did not pose a fire risk. The people who were fouling highways were not doing this because there were insufficient toilets. Urinating in public was not outright offence, but he understood that action could be taking using a S5 of the Public Order Act to issue fixed penalty notices.
Q: There have been reports of the police issuing buckets and mops and asking people to clean up any mess they have created. Is such a scheme workable? Would the provision of night time toilets such as Urilift, at least mean that the police could direct people to these facilities?
MB informed the panel that Hackney council put out 12 ‘pissoirs’ every weekend. Each facility could collect 1,200 litres and they are full up each time they are collected at the end of the weekend. The BTA had done some work on the Late Night Levy with Bath and North East Somerset and they were scheduled to start charging this levy later this year. 
JC explained to the panel that there used to be 24 hour facilities in the city, this had not removed late night urination but helped the situation.
Q: If one was trying to develop a toilet action plan, how do you think that council services could best work together on this issue?
TN was not sure what such a plan would look like, but thought it would be a good idea to work out which toilets to keep. However publicly accessible toilets were not in his top 20 worries. While there had been the decision to introduce a Late Night Levy but 70% of the money raised would go to the police. They had received no such request from the police. He believed that it would be very difficult to sell the Levy to businesses, but wondered whether the police might offer to underwrite the costs of developing the Levy?
TN reminded the panel that 40% of city residents worked in the hospitality sector and what would be the impact of taxing this sector. He also was not sure what the money would be spent on. This issue became even less clear when one looked at the potential exemptions e.g. Business Improvement Districts. This would make very difficult to predict the income which could be generated.
The panel did express concern that the proposal to not include Business Improvement Districts could mean that this Levy could then impact on quieter pubs in outlying areas, rather than busy pubs in heavily populated areas at night.
Major Projects BHCC
Richard Davies (RD) explained that he was the project manager for the Open Market redevelopment. Part of this project was the replacement of the public toilets in Marshalls Row. This project had reached an advanced stage with partners and gone through the Planning process. Then the project had been subjected to a number of years of cuts.
There was concern within the development for the public to be given access to toilets which had originally been only for traders, due to the cost of maintaining them. However, the provision for traders was quite generous.
A community interest company (CIC) has been created to take on the market and manage it. The company was sympathetic to running the markets and wanted public toilets there for visitors rather than none, if the Marshalls Row toilets were shutting. The site where the toilets had been going to be built at Marshalls Row, was now going to be used to build an extra market site. The income generated from this site was then be used to build and run the toilet. This was now subject to Planning consent, so an application now has to be put in to vary the scheme. The main point was to provide a toilet not at the cost of the council which would raise money to use towards other facilities.
JC told the panel that the main users of the Marshalls Row toilets were the traders. These facilities were very small and subject to very high levels of ASB (even when visited six times per day) and inaccessible. In addition the number of facilities being provided in the new development were greater than those provided in the existing toilets and would be accessible. They would also then be monitored by market staff whereas the existing provision was unattended.
RD explained that the market staff would be there all the time the market was open. The facilities being open to the public would mean consumer pressure to maintain the standard of cleanliness. While the CIC would recycle profits back into their company, the toilets will be subsidised as the rent from the extra stall probably will not cover all the costs relating to the toilet. The s.106 will probably need to be varied so the CIC will have to provide this as part of the Planning process.
Q: It is hoped that this project can show that with all new major developments there is the potential to require toilet provision. Is this practicable?
RD believed that it depended on each scheme, for example this could work well in a scheme where there was public use such as a supermarket. However if it was office accommodation, this would be creating private space and would increase the costs of the development.
The panel believed that it seemed sensible to pursue including this requirement to make toilet provision publically accessible in tourist developments.
RD explained that s.106 and CIL would face a lot of demands for the funds they opened up and it would depend where toilets were in the priority queue. It was up to the council to determine these priorities.
Q: The Sainsbury’s in West Hove has publicly accessible toilets and it seemed like a natural inclusion in the development? However it does seem that some other supermarkets were not so enthusiastic, e.g. Tesco’s, can one require these facilities in all supermarkets?
RD told the panel that it depended on how sympathetic the developer was.
In the experience of JC, Sainsbury’s was generally very good, while Tesco’s seemed less sympathetic. It appeared that while CIL could only raise a small amount of funding for publicly accessible toilets, the City Plan could include a requirement to provide general access to toilets in tourist developments which have already built accessible toilets.
The panel welcomed the good news of this Community Interest Company.
Hove Business Association (HBA)
Martin Lawrence (ML), Retail Ambassador, explained that he had conducted a telephone survey of local retailers and had found that none were members of the Use our Loos scheme. He then read out the comments from the HBA in relation to the following questions.
Q2: The Council is considering altering this scheme to focus on enabling access to toilets for people who have a particular medical need, rather than encouraging businesses to open up their toilets to the general public. If the Use our Loos scheme was only open to holders of the ‘Can’t Wait Card’ do you think that members of your association would be more likely to participate in the scheme:
‘My toilet is very inaccessible upstairs and has stock in it.’
‘No – only for my regular customers in an emergency. I don’t want people coming in off the street to use our loo.’
‘Needs supervision which ties up staff.’
‘Will let small children of regular customers use it if desperate.’
‘Health and safety issues.’
‘Occasionally let elderly, but it is very difficult as we have to supervise them into the area and we have staff coats, etc in the toilet area.’
‘We can’t its physically impossible. Head of office says that our public liability insurance only covers shop floor area.’ (it was then queried whether this was true)
‘Only in a dire emergency. We would not join the Can’t Wait Card.’
‘It would not be nice for our staff as it is their only toilet.’
‘Who is going to clean the toilet.’
‘Our staff keep their handbags in the staff room and the loo is off the staff room.’
Q3: The panel has heard evidence of the importance of publicly accessible toilets in enabling people to use the city for activities relating to shopping, tourism and our night time economy. If the local authority was no longer able to fund this service in the future, do you think that businesses would be willing to step in to plug this gap?
According to ML there was a resounding ‘no’ from all members contacted, who made the following comments:
‘Council should make adequate provision – we are supposed to be a tourist town.’
‘Why have so many toilets been shut already.’
‘We need more public toilets not less.’
‘It just would not be possible.’
ML explained that the respondents were typically single unit, small businesses, which could be significantly impacted by opening up their facilities. For example he had allowed a little boy to use his businesses toilet and he had blocked up the entire facility.
Portland Road conveniences had been removed and so now it was not possible to direct people in need to them.
The panel were pleased to be able to hear from the business community. Those who had experience of working in small retail outlets understood the issues raised today; including leaving the shop unsupervised, security, insurance and accessibility.
Janet Woodjetts (JW), Retail Ambassador, explained that she had extensive retail experience of being a multi-site manager and working for a national retailer. She had found that even the multiples did not have good toilet facilities. The majority of smaller outfits in Churchill Square had to rely on using the public facilities. The toilet was most likely to be next to the stockroom and be the least looked after space in the shop. There were also security issues as the toilet tended to be sited next to the stockroom.
JW was concerned that one could apply for the Can’t Wait Card online, which could open up the possibility of fraud to gain access to the back end of a shop. There was a huge amount of internal theft in retail which would detract from people in need. For this reason, she could see why retailers did not want to participate. Many were alone and would have to leave the shop unattended or allow the person to go in the facility by themselves.
JW felt that there had to be massive commercial opportunities from our public toilets. One could hire out space to organisations such as Proctor and Gamble to e.g. sell sanitary products/advertising to their target audience.
JC told the panel that there was a corporate advertising contract being let which may include public toilets.
The panel asked to receive an update on Corporate Sponsorship to look at the potential for engaging e.g. large breweries, as this could provide some funding to meet the toilet needs of the night time economy.
JW suggested that one should explore the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies of organisations in the city to gain a strategic view of what they were trying to achieve. For example Tesco have a CSR policy regarding the community.
The panel could see that it may not be possible for the council to offer a sufficient financial incentive to cover the costs to small businesses if they were to participate in this scheme. Therefore it would be useful to explore the issue of sponsorship.
ML told the panel that he felt that was not a lot of toilet provision in the evening at the Seafront, which led to night time soiling on the beach. JC explained that in summer these facilities were kept open to 10pm at the earliest. However it was not practicable to keep them open longer due to:
There used to be some 24 hour fully automatic units which were not popular as they made people nervous. People used RADAR keys to gain access to certain facilities and people were living in them and using them for anti-social behaviour, so now these units were shut at night.
Round table discussion
MB said that while the feedback from the businesses today had related to small businesses, there may be greater potential to involve larger businesses, who had more than 15 staff.
JW believed that a system would need to be put into place to help security, for example some larger businesses had visitor books. However this would add a layer of complication to their work. MB felt that a more productive area would be to look at the leases of public toilets in parks, and potentially being allowed to gain access if made a purchase at the park café. JC gave the example of the lease at Aldington Rec which had been re-let with the owner of the café taking on the responsibility for the toilets. This was working well and this approach would be used again at more sites. She believed it was important to look at our building stock and how to make the best use of it.
MB told the panel that while the BTA was not lobbying national government about statutory duties at the moment it was working on projects like the toilet map for the UK. They were in talks with the DCLG regarding this project, which was similar to the work done in Australia. Their approach was to encourage, rather than forcing as it had been like banging their head against a brick wall.
The panel were keen to know what the BTA view was on public health and toilet provision, given the recent changes to responsibility for public health.
MB told the panel that toilets were an important part of public health. A lot of people needed to know where their nearest toilet is, and if not able to reach one, could end up in hospital. When people were away from home, people need toilets. Groups with the most immediate needs included:
The panel concluded the meeting by commenting on the need for lifetime cities, public environments that ... view the full minutes text for item 15.
The next steps
The Chair reminded all present that this was the final public meeting of the scrutiny panel on publicly accessible toilets. The panel would now consider the evidence and were intending to produce their report and recommendations in the spring. The panel wanted to thank everyone who had given evidence or submitted information in writing to them.
If anyone wanted to submit further written evidence, could they please email Karen.email@example.com.
Finally the Chair thanked all those who had come and shared their knowledge with the panel today.
There was no A.O.B.