Public toilets in Wales

2 July 2014

Article by Amy Clifton, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Public Health (Wales) Bill

One theme of the Welsh Government Public Health (Wales) Bill white paper is ‘building community assets’ – this includes a proposal to strengthen the role of local authorities in planning for the provision of and access to toilets for public use. The consultation closed on 24 June 2014.

Image from Wikimedia Commons. Licenced under the Creative Commons.

Image from Wikimedia Commons. Licenced under the Creative Commons.

In the white paper, the Welsh Government notes that there are public health and environmental costs to the wider community of inadequate toilet facilities.

The Welsh Government identifies a number of challenges with the current system governing public access to toilets, including:

  • providing and maintaining public toilets in Wales is at the discretion of local authorities (there is no duty to provide them);
  • public toilets are costly to local authorities and as a result, are under threat of closure across Wales;
  • the current Community Toilet Grant Scheme (which reimburses local authorities for grants to local businesses for allowing free public access to toilets) is limited as it focuses purely on private establishments; and
  • there is poor planning around making the best use of toilets within public buildings e.g. public libraries, sports centres, etc.

The white paper proposes a new duty on local authorities to develop a strategy (which could form part of the single integrated planning process) on the provision of and access to toilets for public use.

The strategy must be based on local community need, and consulted upon and reviewed on a regular basis. Local authorities would be required to consider the availability of toilets for public use in all aspects of planning. In particular, this could include the duty to consider how local authorities would use existing powers to ensure that adequate toilet facilities are provided for the public; and the availability of public toilets provided by the local authority and within public buildings e.g. in public libraries, community and town halls, sports centres, theatres and museums.

Assembly Health and Social Care Committee Inquiry

The Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee held a short inquiry into the ‘Public health implications of inadequate public toilet facilities’ during the winter of 2011/12 (following the submission of a petition to the Petitions Committee in June 2010).

The Committee heard evidence from various stakeholders and concluded that there is a public health case for better public toilet provision.

Witnesses told the Committee that inadequate public toilet provision has a disproportionate effect on certain sections of society, such as older and disabled people, children and those suffering from bladder or bowel conditions.

Evidence emphasised that a lack of adequate public toilets can severely affect a person’s ability to leave the house and engage in the community. The Committee heard that the impact can include stress, isolation, depression, reduced mobility, effects on bladder and bowel function, dehydration, urinary tract infections and spread of infection.

Organisations like Age Cymru and the Welsh Senate for Older People called for a statutory duty on local authorities in Wales to provide adequate numbers of accessible public toilets across Wales.

People with profound and multiple learning disabilities, as well as other serious impairments such as spinal injuries, multiple sclerosis or an acquired brain injury, often need extra facilities to those provided in standard disabled toilets. Changing Places toilets have extra features and more space to meet these needs. According to Changing Places, there are currently 24 changing places toilets in Wales.

The Committee concluded that a lack of adequate toilet provision can impact on an individual’s physical and mental health, as well as the wider environmental health of the Welsh population, bringing implications for health and social services.