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The London Society has called upon Mayoral candidates to commit to the provision and maintenance of public toilets throughout London, and for this to be included in the London Plan, and provide incentives for local authorities to make this a part of their long-term strategies for the wellbeing of residents and visitors alike. Recent polls reflect that that the vast majority of Londoners would welcome this basic provision of sanitation as a key strategy to make the capital healthy and equitable.

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The Society’s campaigning work has discovered that community groups are all too aware that there is a dire need for a proper system of toilets that are accessible by all, and that charities such as Age UK London have been raising this issue at a national level for years. Many people are restricted by how much they can travel, which impacts local economies and the quality of public spaces, leading to poor health equity and that businesses and transport networks will suffer from a chronic lack of use.

The issue causes a lack of civic pride amongst the population and overseas travellers are often shocked with the current lack of this social amenity, with social media accounts used to warn potential visitors in advance of their journeys and thereby encouraging a negative impression of the capital.

Public toilet schemes

It is important to change the cultural mindset of how we view toilets, allowing us to see them as a key part of the infrastructure of London. There are a number of interim projects in operation, such as the Community Toilet Scheme and the Toilets4London app but these do not demonstrate strategic planning at a higher level for the years ahead. The Society is also aware that some councils are initiating plans of their own but this is dependent on individual budgets and expertise on a borough-wide level only.

Are there ways that we can ensure funding – such as the Community Infrastructure Levy or Section 106 agreements – is tied to public toilets in the planning process? How can we unite the public and private sectors for the greater good? The Victorians were able to improve London through a network of public toilets but now many of these facilities are lying dormant or have been transformed into bars, restaurants and night clubs.

Inspiration from abroad

The London Society is calling on Mayoral candidates to tackle this huge issue and provide some dignity for the people that use the capital on a daily basis. The same attitude that affords regular bin collections and the creation of super sewers should be applied to public toilets. 

We have seen that this is possible in other cities around the world, including schemes such as the Tokyo Toilet Project, the Happy Toilet Programme in Singapore and the Public Toilet Strategy in Sydney – that demonstrate these places are open and welcoming to the world.

Prof Kevin Fenton CBE, Director for London in the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and Statutory Health Advisor to the Mayor of London, and Prof Sir Michael Marmot, Director at the UCL Institute of Health Equity, both believe that the provision of public toilets is a significant contributor to public health. Sir Michael said: “The ready availability of public toilets is the crucial element of the age-friendly city. It is also vitally important for people with particular needs – all part of an environment conducive to health equity.”

London Society Trustee, Clare Delmar said: “Public toilets are the low-hanging fruit of public health and inclusive placemaking. As active travel, public realm development and preventative health measures increase their prominence across the capital, the provision of public toilets ensures their widespread adoption and support.”

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Image: Public toilets in Broadwick Street, London ©Mark Hillary