Seen as drain on public finances
THE Bristol Women's Forum Toilet Campaign subgroup was set up in 2006, when lack of public toilets was chosen as a campaign topic at their AGM. The reason this came to the fore was partly the increased sale of public toilets by Bristol City Council and partly out of the findings of the Parks and Public Places Consultation, where lack of toilets was one of the main reasons stated for the reluctance of women to use parks and open green spaces.
This group then joined together with a group from the Older Peoples Forum for a joint survey/petition at their annual "Day of Celebration" at the Council House. There was a 99.9% support for this petition which was then attached to a statement, presented to council. The group has also worked with officers in the council to help produce a toilet booklet for the past four years. Since the closure of the Women's Forum the BOPF have continued to support this campaign – even though results have been slow. Members have been encouraged to bring this up at their Neighbourhood Partnership meetings. I have also been involved in supporting a national campaign to make the provision of public toilets by local councils mandatory, rather than voluntary, as many local authorities see the provision of public toilets as a financial drain rather than a service, especially after the Equality Act forced them to spend money on making them more accessible. Unfortunately the first attempt at this did not succeed, but it has now resurfaced as an e-petition. Whether this succeeds or not, I hope the group will continue to try to convince BCC that the provision of good public toilets will benefit the Bristol tourist economy, as well as improving the quality of many peoples lives.
I have had to think very hard about the future of this campaign. The road has been long and slow, although we have had a few wins, but rather more setbacks. I was particularly very disappointed that BCC refused to re-open the Avonmouth toilet block and have now put it up for sale.
The one at Sea Mills is now a cafe, but although I haven't used it myself, I'm sure they won't want anyone going in just to use the toilet. This means that between Avonmouth and the Downs in Clifton, there is only one public toilet available. I am sure everyone can find similar stories in their own neighbourhoods.
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Also when the opportunity came early last year for BCC to set up a partnership similar to the one that exists in Blackpool, they backed away and settled for encouraging some small businesses, mainly public houses like Wetherspoons, to put their names into the latest public toilet booklet.
However they do not seem to be willing to ensure that a) there are enough booklets distributed in every neighbourhood and b) that all businesses mentioned in the booklet put a sign in their window so the passing public know that they can use those toilets without any obligation to purchase a drink etc. (to date this has still not happened across Bristol).
The Government said: "It is expected that local councils will act as effective community leaders, listening to the views of local people and providing services which meet their needs', and research shows that 'the loss of good public toilet provision has a direct effect on the quality of peoples lives."
Sadly many Bristol City councillors seem to see public toilets less as an essential service and more as just a drain on public money.
I do not want to give up on this campaign – either at the local or the national level – despite the economic downturn that is obviously going to make the council more intransigent. So where do we go from here?