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CAN YOU JUDGE A NATION BY ITS TOILETS? Examination of current and alternative public toilet provisions for Dublin City Centre

Prepared for the DCBA by Barry Cassidy

September 2010

Executive Summary This report aims to examine the importance of public toilet provisions in a modern Irish economy that relies on tourism, to attract foreign currency and enabling its citizens and local government to the standard of highly regarded metropolis cities such as London, New York and Paris to name but a few. Issues addressed in this report include the importance of providing public toilet facilities to tourists and disabled people it also examines the regulations and responsibility of providing such facilities and the costs associated with that. Counter arguments address concerns over vandalism and anti-social behaviour often associated with public toilets. All these issues use examples of cases from the UK, Europe, Australia and the USA and Canada. This report did not examine issues concerning EU policy or legislation on public toilets. It did not uncover or address Irish legal requirements or humanitarian concern. The lack of public toilets in the new Metro system which is claimed will carry 32 million passengers a year was not examined. New technology such as satellite navigational systems to locate public toilets were not examined either. Conducted using mainly secondary research methods this report used online resources and information from newspaper articles and selected books. Reports from outside the jurisdiction were mostly used for data and pricing information as very little work has been done here in Ireland on this topic. Of greatest insight were cases presented by different local authorities in the UK they provided the most rounded arguments and listed the different methods for achieving the implementation of public toilets. The report finds that Dublin City Council has failed to provide adequate public toilets for its tourists and citizens; it has also failed to address the issue associated with the lack of public toilets. Issues such as leaving the provision of toilet facilities to local businesses that do not benefit from allowing people to use their toilets. The extra cost that has been incurred by small businesses and the state has to be dealt with. An example of how other major cities place an element of importance over the provision of public toilets and view them as essential service is something Dublin has to incorporate. This report therefore, presents a list of alternative options that could be adopted by Dublin City Council to be on par with other major global economies. Through advertising agencies, local communities and cost effective town planning Dublin could be brought up to the same standards of these cities. On examination of the information this report will show that public toilets can be provided at a relatively low cost in some cases are less expensive than not providing public toilet facilities at all. The recommendations in this report are for Dublin City Council to conduct a feasibility study on the most cost effective and appropriate method for providing facilities. They should liaise with the community and business leaders in a consultation process and tender out options for advertising agencies. It is further recommended that EU policy and legislation be discovered and legal advice sought on the humanitarian consequences of not providing public toilet facilities.


1.1 Introduction Lewis Mumford the famous town planner once said; “A civilisation may be judged by the way it disposes of its waste” (Mumford, 1965). The purpose of this report is to examine alternative public toilet provisions, discover what might be the ideal standard, the importance of public toilets in creating an accessible city for everyone and if a cost effective solution can be introduced to Dublin city. This paper draws upon research undertaken by the British Toilet Association, the Provision of Public Toilets 2008 report ordered by the House of Commons and upon the book, Inclusive Urban Design; Public Toilets (Greed, 2003). Although there is little research done in Dublin, or Ireland as a whole, this report will examine procedures and regulations in other major cities. Social changes such as increased mobility, tourism and affluence have all resulted in a new toilet agenda, as everyone needs a toilet when away from home for the day. The requirements of people with disabilities and an ageing population have led to a reappraisal of toilet provisions and design consideration. Building better toilets is only half the battle, they need to be maintained and managed effectively, particularly where public toilets are the focus of vandalism and anti-social behaviour. Political support, financial incentives and public acknowledgement of the importance of toilet provisions all need to be addressed.

1.2 Why do public Toilets matter? Public toilets matter for a variety of reasons. Without them many local area authorities and residents are left to clean up their streets and shop fronts every morning. This street fouling is an appalling and disgusting act. It is also very off putting to many guests to our city and furthermore makes many back lanes and passage ways no go areas.

2.1 Tourism Toilets are often the first and most important image people have of a city when they first arrive. Tourists and visitors also rank the availability of toilets high in their list of reasons why a location is worth visiting, a point made by Peter Hampson, Director of the British Resorts and Destinations Association (BRADA); “if you are a visitor and there on temporary basis, provisions of toilets becomes absolutely fundamental... most journeys start and finish with people going to the loo”. This point is backed up with online evidence according to; ‘there is a dearth of public toilets in Dublin’, suggests; ‘there are no public toilets all food and drink places should have toilets’. According to Ireland Travel Guide blog, writer Bernd Biege he states that; ‘since the end of the 20th century all public conveniences have disappeared in central Dublin... the toilet situation in central Dublin stinks’. Other blogs and websites including Time Out Dublin, and regularly warn other visitors of the lack of public toilets and recommend using bars or restaurants. People expect to make themselves comfortable before exploring a city, toilets are essential services in other major cities and so are expected here. There are benefits to providing public toilets beyond improving tourist’s attitude. There is a ‘business case’ that has to be addressed that investment in good toilet provision has been shown to increase retail turnover, tourist numbers and economic rate. This has been proved by extensive research carried out by Clara Greed, professor of Inclusive Urban Planning at the University of West England. She believes you have to see the broader context of a society that is supporting and enabling its members to take part and get out and about.


2.2 Disability It is accepted and expected that everyone has the right to live in the community, to move around within it and to access all its facilities. Government policy promotes the idea of ‘community participation’ and ‘active citizenship’ but for some disabled people the lack of a fully accessible toilet is denying them that right. Disabled people and their carers lack the freedom to leave their own homes without the reassurance of adequate toilet facilities being available. This is a similar scenario for the elderly and can cause certain groups to feel anxious about going out leading to social isolation and affect their health from a social, mental and physical impact.

2.3 Regulation Public toilets were first provided by the state from the 1850s in Britain, with progressive municipalities making provision for their citizens (Greed, 2003:ch. 3.). Local authorities were given powers to build and maintain public toilets by early legislation, such as the 1875 Public Health Act. More recently public toilets in Britain are regulated by the historic 1936 Public Health Act, Section 87, and Sub Section 3. This gives local authorities the right to build and run on street ‘public conveniences’, if they wish to do so but it does not require them to do so, thus the legislation is permissive not mandatory. Although this is a British standard it only covers England and Whales, Scotland have their own standards, it is not known if Irish standards have changed since formation of the state. However currently all public toilets are the responsibility of Dublin City Council. Under the Dublin City Litter Management Plan 2008 – 2011 section 4.11; ‘Dublin City Council will provide portable public toilet facilities at major events in the City. This initiative was introduced on a trial basis in 2007, and will be continued through the period 20082011. As part of a wider initiative, Dublin City Council will also develop public toilet infrastructure Citywide, to include a range of modern facilities and public conveniences’. There is a real lack of reliable data about the number of public toilets still in operation it is believed that one stage there were up to 40 public toilets in Dublin city. According to a report in the Irish Independent “11 conveniences were closed over the last decade or so as people became afraid to use them opting instead to call into pubs, shops and department stores” (Irish Independent, 08/01/2007). This report will highlight two possibilities for the provision of future toilets for public use, namely the Automatic Public Conveniences/ Toilet (APC, APT) and the Community Toilet Scheme (CTS).

3. Automated Public Conveniences It will cost customers 25 cents for 15 minutes in a toilet cubicle before the toilet doors automatically open, a 60-second automatic cleaning cycle begins after each usage. They tend to be shiny, silver, heated and mirrored, and depending on the model it will play gentle music overhead. They are more often than not fee paying; they are fully assessable, less vulnerable to vandalism. Self cleaning after use and in exchange for commercial advertising can offer, in certain circumstances a cost neutral option for local authorities. On the down side the self cleaning does not make them ecologically friendly to run, they use a lot of water and tend to be quite expensive to operate. Many people are uneasy using a large unit on a main street; elderly people are frightened by the automatic element fearing they may get locked in or exposed. Finally, one toilet may not be enough to serve a large area. This option as a viable product to be used in Dublin City will be examined using examples from abroad.


4.1 United States (New York City) For 20 years, the NYC council and Mayors have made proposals and counterproposals to provide public toilets for general use. “it’s astounding that we can’t get it done”, said Doug Lasdon, Executive Director of the Urban Justice Centre, who sued the city in 1990 over its failure to provide clean and safe public toilets. The lawsuit was dismissed on technical grounds. However, after endless complications and tendering, the job of installing and maintaining public toilets was finally given to Cemusa Inc, a subsidiary of Spanish advertising conglomerate. The deal would generate $1 billion for the city over 20 years. Cemusa would install the amenities without charge and pay a fee, in exchange for the city’s permission to sell advertising on 20 public toilets, 3,300 bus shelters and 300 newsstands. Cemusa operates similar symbiotic relations with Boston, Miami, San Antonio, Spain and from Seville to Rio de Janeiro in Latin America over the last decade. Nicholas Grimshaw, whose architecture firm is behind the Fulton street subway station, will design the street amenities. The street project began in 2008 and seeks to address an embarrassing shortcomings in a city that prides itself as a world capital with riches aplenty; a lack of public toilets in busy Manhattan business district. Users will have to pay a nominal fee of 25c for 15 minutes. (NY Times, 22, September 2007)

4.2 United States (Seattle) and Canada Seattle's high-tech public toilets cost the city $1 million apiece in 2004. In July 2008 the toilets went up for sale on eBay with a starting bid set by the city of $89,000. Problems surrounding drug use and prostitution inside the facilities caused the city to abandon their use. Seattle officials say the project failed because the toilets were placed in neighbourhoods that already had many drug users and deviants. In addition, a strict advertising law in Seattle barred officials from any advertising arrangement with an outdoor advertising company to operate and maintain them for the municipality in exchange for a right to place ads on public property. Revenue from the advertisers flows to both the company and the city; Seattle had to pick up the entire $5 million cost. Calgary in Canada has already had a positive experience with a similar public toilet and is considering the purchase of the five Seattle rejects. Calgary claims they did not experience the same problems; use of their single pilot toilet has tripled since its February installation. Astral Media Outdoor, a division of the Canada media company won the bid to supply Toronto with $1 billion worth of street furniture over the next 20 years. Councillor Michael Thompson said he hoped they will be part of the solution to Toronto’s bathroom blues. (Now Public, June 10, 2008)

4.3 Amsterdam Amsterdam has always been seen to do things a little unusually to other cities and their public toilet is no exception. A few decades ago officials set about furnishing some city neighbourhoods with quite a few free public urinals right out in the open. They have more recently introduced the “wheelie bin urinals” situated in alleyways streets and by shops in order to crack down on drinkers frequenting these areas. These units cost €150 to €750.


4.4 Paris On February 1, 2006 Paris began converting its more than 200 self-sanitizing public toilets to work for free. They previously cost 40c. In a plan worked out with Decaux, the company that manages the selfsanitizing toilets, the city government will pay 17c in operating costs for every visitor above the €2.4m tallied in 2005. Paris expects to recuperate most of the money spent on the toilets, called "sanisettes," by saving on street cleaning. The sanisettes come in several styles, but all have the same basic design as the majority of Automatic Public Conveniences.

5.1 Community Toilet Scheme Local authorities have adopted a new means of making existing toilets in private premises available to the general public. The schemes differ in detail, but the general principle is a simple one; that local authorities work in partnership with local businesses to provide access for the public to clean, safe toilets and may provide a payment to participating local businesses. Scotland has had this scheme in place for over 15 years and is known as the ‘Highland Comfort Scheme’. Brighton has a similar scheme for several years, in Hove city their council set up a “Your Welcome” scheme that permits local businesses to charge the public for using their toilets. Problems exist for this process as many people feel intimidated by entering a pub alone and others feel self conscious being seen to leave a pub during the day. There is a provision in the scheme allowing providers to refuse admission to people under certain circumstances, in a sense these are not public toilets. These businesses that do not get a council incentive or charge will be allowing many visitors use these facilities with no return on investment. The report will look at the success of this scheme in Richmond, South London and also at similar schemes and incentives in other countries.

5.2 Florence Florence has recently instituted the ‘courtesy point’ system where 82 bars and cafes were assigned to put a yellow sticker in their windows to welcome guests to use their toilets. It is not known what agreement is in place to encourage this practice other than the tourist leaflet given to tourists in local tourist offices. The guide to reception in the leaflet simply states; “Bars, coffee shops, and restaurants showing this sign are selected and monitored by the City of Florence. Customers are welcome with kindness and care. A toilet is available if needed. By offering you this service, the City of Florence wishes to make your stay more pleasant and more comfortable”. (

5.3 UK Britain led the world with the introduction of public conveniences, in 1852. Yet in recent years there has been a decline in their availability, “Lavatory humour is rife in British culture, but the provision of public toilets is no laughing matter: public toilets matter to everybody,” the MPs write. The all-party committee finds “a consistent downward trend”, with one estimate showing that numbers have declined by 16 per cent since 2000. Councils are not currently required to provide toilets, and the MPs say that they must be forced to come up with ways to reverse the decline. “Our overriding recommendation is that the Government imposes a duty on local authorities to develop a public-toilet strategy,” Phyllis Starkey, the committee's chairman, said. One way to help to stem the tide would be paying local businesses to allow the public to use their toilets, as a few councils do already. 6

Similar schemes are run across the UK, including neighbouring Tooting who currently have 43 toilets as part of their scheme, London Mayor Boris Johnson has called for them to be adopted London-wide. All premises that are running the scheme will be clearly advertised and annual inspections will be carried out to make sure facilities are up to scratch. The council will aim for a range of opening hours, with toilets available for public use during the day and evening. The current contract for existing APCs runs until December 2011 and a decision will be taken then on how many APCs will be provided in the future. Organisations are also very much involved in this process; in 1999 the British Toilet Association was born. Through its campaign activities the Association hopes to influence standards. To focus attention on issues that relate to the provision of public or ‘away from home’ toilets to campaign for appropriate legislation relating to the provision of public toilets by Local Authorities. (Times, October 22, 2008)

5.4 Switzerland Switzerland has established a high quality public toilet system where a commercial company can take over and run a public toilet on a 20 or 30 year lease. These McClean toilets are often found in central locations in existing retail units with an ordinary shop front, with a range of toiletry goods for sale, creating the designer ‘toilet shop’. The current charge for use is €1 there are obvious advantages to this system, but as Clara Greed states, “while this commercial approach provides a good service, it is expensive and appropriate only in prime locations where reasonable returns can be made”. According to the BTA they have tried to persuade local authorities to look into using McClean, but none so far has decided to outsource its public toilet provision to McClean.

5.5 Australia The government of Australia takes their public toilets seriously; they have published The National Public Toilet Map (the Map) showing the location of more than 14,000 public and private public toilet facilities across Australia. Details of toilet facilities can also be found along major travel routes and for shorter journeys as well. Useful information is provided about each toilet, such as location, opening hours, availability of baby change rooms, accessibility for people with disabilities and the details of other nearby toilets. The development of the map and the web site is funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Health and Ageing as part of the National Continence Management Strategy. Registered users can download toilets as waypoints through their GPS device and save the toilets that you would like to download. They are currently working with 26 State Government agencies from across Australia who provides more than 1000 toilet facilities to update their details on the site. They have also contacted more than 1,300 shopping centres across Australia to ask them to participate in the project which will significantly boost the number of toilets available on the site. The National Public Toilet Map Newsletter is a quarterly email update on the project including a summary of new toilets added in the previous quarter. Local councils also look for alternative ways in which toilets can be provided and work ‘creatively’ with business, tourists and communities by holding consultations on the addition or removal of public toilets. (


5. Problems with Public toilets 5.1 Antisocial behaviour People especially the elderly, link public toilets with anti-social behaviour, most notably drug taking including discarded needles and the presence of ‘sharps’ disposal boxes. According to the British Toilet Association (BTA) this alarms the ordinary public toilet user who quiet naturally prefers not to share space with people who use public toilets as a base for their drug habit. The act of ‘cruising’ or electing sexual activities and depositing of sexual litter is often cited as a reason to avoid public toilets. This coupled with vandalism can make these places unsightly and intimidating. Several sources believe the presence of a person ‘in authority’ such as an attendant would deter such activity by playing a role beyond keeping the toilets clean, its further suggested that charging an entry fee would provide a barrier to entry for some offenders. The City of London Corporation memorandum highlights the extra costs of staffed facilities, but states: “In the city’s experience however, the cost of staffing are on a whole outweighed by the benefit of reduced costs in dealing with the effects of vandalism and other examples of anti-social behaviour”. 5.2 Costs The cost of installing and maintaining public toilets are considerable. According to Healthmatic, a company that designs supplies and maintains public toilets in the UK and Ireland, automatic toilets (known as APCs or APTs) costs typically £70k plus connection to the services and then a maintenance cost of up to £15k per annum. The cost for standalone semi-automatic toilets where access is automatically controlled within set times, is around £45k plus connection to service. The cheapest option is traditional public toilet blocks; a standard block with four women’s cubicles, one man’s cubicle, plus urinals and a cubicle compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act would cost around £140k plus connection to services. The costs of bringing services to the toilets can cost as much as £30k, depending on proximity to sewerage, water and electricity. The ongoing costs of maintaining public toilets vary, depending on the type of public toilet, whether it is attended and level of use. The BTA quotes the figure of £25k to £40k for the cost of maintaining an attended facility. The Chartered Institute of Public Finances and Accountability quote figures for 2006 to 2007, the full year costs for public toilet provisions in England. ‘....we see a total expenditure (net of income) of £99.382m and.... a total income of £4.617m. Rounding up the figures expenditure is about £100m and income £4.5m, the current income is a meagre 4.5% of expenditure. This means income has to increase by 24 fold in order to reach break-even’. In contrast the Community Toilet Scheme uses services and attendants already in place and generally in environments where dealing with people and in particular difficult people is part of their job. In Richmond London there are 69 participating partners spread across the borough, the council pays each partner £600 plus VAT and maintains public liability insurance; there is also a dedicated member of staff at the council to co-ordinate the scheme. The overall cost of the scheme is around £65k which is about £20k cheaper than the leasing arrangement for the five automatic public toilets it replaced.


6. Conclusion It is clear from this research that there are many options available to local councils to introduce public toilets back into the system. Although the discussions of public toilets has not been a high topic in Dublin it is clear from the cases mentioned in this report that ignoring this subject is not the answer. All major cities around the world are reintroducing the facilities of public toilets as an essential service, if we wish to compete for tourists and make our city a desirable one we have to follow suit. New York City, London, and Australia have all revisited the need for public toilets in order to facilitate tourism, the general population and those who depend on such facilities. Florence, Tooting and Richmond are aware of the importance of advertising a welcoming, facilitating message that is encouraging partner shipping in the community. While New York and Canada followed in Parisian footsteps and opted for a partner shipping agreement with major advertisers in order to help their cost base. Australia has also displayed a pro active approach and established the National Toilet Map. There are high costs associated with both the facilities mentioned in this report, and for different reasons one approach may be suited to Dublin City more than the other. There will always be anti social behaviour and it will always have to be addressed, laws are in existence to suppress this from occurring to the detriment of civic society. The BTA are a strong and established organisation and are fighting for standards and human rights to be addressed, cases have been brought against New York City council for lack of toilet facilities. It is only a matter of time before it becomes a standard provision by law to provide public toilets.

7. Recommendations • • • •

• • •

Dublin City Council should consider this report and present their findings to city ratepayers and civic society and set out a plan to provide adequate public toilet facilities in Dublin over the coming years. Public Toilet facilities in high footfall areas should be reopened rather than left vacant. The management of these facilities should be discussed with large advertising agencies interested in managing them. Facilities should be made available in bars and restaurants and these businesses should be given reduced business rates or incentives for involvement in this process. This facility should be highlighted in the windows of businesses with an easily and common recognisable logo similar to the WC symbol. Information on pubic toilets should be made available in tourist offices and tourist guides should be informed. After an initial pilot phase a public consultation should occur to get feedback from businesses and community leaders and the general public. If the process turns out some success it would be recommended that the provision of public toilets should be written into law.


Appendix References Books BSI (1996) BS 6465: Sanitary installations: Part I: Code of practice for the scale of provision, selection and installation of sanitary appliances London: BSI, update in progress BSI (2001) Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people - Code of Practice, BS 8300:2001, London: BSI (British Standards Institute). BTA (2001) Better Public Toilets: A providers' guide to the provision and management of 'away from home' toilets, Winchester: British Toilet Association. Cunningham, Susan and Norton Christine (1993) Public Inconveniences: Suggestions for Improvements. London: All Mod Cons & the Continence Foundation. Greed, Clara & Roberts, Marion (1998) Introducing Urban Design, Harlow: Longmans Greed, C. (2003) Inclusive Urban Design: Public Toilets Oxford: Architectural Press. Mumford, L. (1965) The City in History, Harmondsworth: Penguin (originally 1935). Robinson, Steve (2001) Public Conveniences: Policy, Planning and Provision London: Institute of Wastes Management (IWM). Web


Can you judge a nation by its toilets?  

Can you judge a nation by its toilets?

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