Peterborough visitors risk being caught short

Former toilets in Cathedral Square
Former toilets in Cathedral Square
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According to the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), 20 per cent of Britons have on occasions stayed at home for fear of being unable to find a toilet, writes Barry Warne from the Green Party in this week’s Speaker’s Corner column.

Councils are obliged to carry human waste away from our homes via a public sewer network, but there is no statutory requirement for local authorities to provide public conveniences anywhere else.

Peterborough city centre is typical of many busy urban areas in that toilet facilities are on the decline. The popular Cathedral Square toilets (pictured) are long gone and have not been adequately replaced. Government funding to local councils has been slashed in recent years, resulting in the closure of many public conveniences. This has left many shoppers and visitors to our city caught short.

Fast food chains, restaurants, pubs and cafes seem to be taking over the role of public toilet provision. Some businesses must be flushed with success thanks to the extra custom those in search of relief has bought them. However, many of these establishments, understandably, do not want their toilets used by non-patrons, and so lock their facilities and provide a key as and when a paying customer requests it. Of course, not everyone can afford to purchase a cup of tea each time they need to spend a penny.

Where public toilets are provided they can be expensive to use, and the outlay of 30p a visit is not unusual. This seems to discriminate against the roughly 40 per cent of the population with conditions that require frequent use of a toilet. With public urination treated as a potential public order offence, it seems potty to leave so many with no option but to break the law.

Disabled people across the UK are being let down by a lack of fully-accessible toilets.

Conveniences should have a changing bench, hoist, privacy screen and space for two carers to qualify as fully-accessible Changing Place Toilets, according to Government policy.

A survey by Muscular Dystrophy UK found that only 1,324 toilets in the UK meet these criteria, the equivalent to just two per 100,000 of the population, and warns that the shortage of accessible facilities is “failing disabled people”.

There is also a gender disparity. Women are regularly resigned to queueing for a toilet in a way that men are not. In North America it is believed that a fair ratio for toilet facilities is at least 2:1 in favour of women. The British standard is 1:1.

Some German towns and local authorities have worked out that it is much cheaper to get someone else to provide toilets than to have to fund their construction, operation and maintenance from the public purse. The councils pay shops, cafes, etc. to make their toilets available to people who are not customers. A sign is displayed in the shop window to indicate that free facilities are available inside.

Could these measures be the answer here? As an aspiring environmental city, isn’t it time the council did more to help us when nature calls?