Angela Lovely reports on a campaign to bring a public toilet to Tottenham Court Road, and below Danielle le Poupou and Gustav Langshaft investigate Camden and Westminster’s public loos.
Despite its millions of visitors and shoppers Tottenham Court Road has no public toilet. In fact there are no public toilets on the Camden side of Fitzrovia, the nearest Camden loo being on the north side of Russell Square in Bloomsbury.
Residents are now fed up of washing urine and worse off their doorsteps and have been meeting to decide what to do about the lack of a public toilet particularly with the increase in visitors to the area during the 2012 Olympics and the extra footfall from the new Crossrail station in 2018.
Whitfield Gardens is regularly used as an impromptu toilet as are the other open spaces and doorways in Fitzrovia. Yet those needing to answer the call of nature have little choice if there are no public facilities to use.
A group of residents and business people have now had enough and are considering a site for a staffed public toilet open for long hours somewhere along Tottenham Court Road. A spot favoured is the disused entrance to the air raid shelter between the American Church and the advertising hoarding near the junction with Torrington Place. Residents and businesses are trying to identify funds to build and run the toilet. One solution is to use money from planning gain, known as 106 money, from one or more of the many property developments on the Camden side of Fitzrovia.
Currently much of 106 money has been used to pay for the Legible London tourist signs and to encourage visitors, but no money has been set aside for providing somewhere for those many visitors to go to the toilet.
By contrast Westminster City Council has two public toilets in Fitzrovia: one at Great Portland Street tube station and another in the Plaza Centre on Oxford Street. However, Westminster’s urinals at Soho Square have drawn criticism because there is no facility for women.
Residents told Fitzrovia News we need a public toilet that is clean, accessible, staffed, and open long hours.
Westminster and Camden’s public loos reviewed
The Russell Square loo has instructions in three languages and braille, and is accessible for those in a wheelchair. This is the only public toilet in the whole of Bloomsbury ward. One of those dreaded automatic loos where we have an in-built fear that the door will slide open just as we’re about to give our gift to the muddy ol’ river.
When we visited, the hand drier was permanently whirring away, water was running from the jet washer and through the slots in the floor, there was no toilet paper and no soap appeared to be coming from the automatic dispenser. Also no condom machine but plenty of room for stand up fun and games with more than a few people should the occasion arise.
When you leave the toilet it is presumably hosed down by a pressure washer. Whether people would take the time to fiddle about for 20 pence or ask a passer-by for change, rather than water the nearby railings, we’re not so sure.
Women and people in a wheelchair don’t have that advantage and they are poorly served by this unhygienic contraption. Those with a disability Radar Key can get in for free, which is some consolation. Open 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
Next up on our tour of toilets is the basement loos at Great Portland Street tube station. These are attended loos and very clean. There is toilet paper, soap and a condom machine. And there’s some nice artwork.
A full flight of twisting steps to the toilet and so it fails the accessibility test. While it is open seven days a week it is only open between 10am and 6pm. If this toilet was at street level and open longer hours it would be pretty much the gold standard.
Inside the Plaza centre on Oxford Street there is an attended loo which costs 20 pence to use. These were clean and accessible and the women’s loos were served with vending machines for feminine hygiene products. They are open during the Plaza Centre’s hours.
See also toiletmap.co.uk
I sympathise with the residents of Fitzrovia on the lack of public toilets. I have to say that this is a national problem and not one that affects just one particular area (though I fully understand that residents concentrate on their own local shortage). Over a long period, I have seen public toilets boarded up and replaced by other buildings. It is quite shameful.
While I understand that councils are keen to save money and that there is a constant threat of vandalism, I do not regard these as sufficient excuses to reduce the supply of toilets to such a poor level.
In the UK, it is common to see notices in pubs, cafes and restaurants reading “Toilets strictly for customers only” but in the Netherlands, most such businesses allow non-customers to use their toilets in return for a small fee, say 25 eurocents. Such a system if implemented here would go some way towards easing the problem. I have on occasion politely asked in cafes if I may use their toilet without consuming and have never been refused. I always offer to pay but this is usually declined also. This being so, perhaps consumer groups and businesses could get together to look for solutions as it is obviously in the interests of shops that potential customers feel relaxed and do not have to leave the area when they need the toilet.
Shame on Camden Council who built the early public loo in Camden High street – at the instigation of G.B. Shaw!
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