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Down the pan

X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 16:45 UK time, Monday, 14 November 2011

Cregennan Lakes
For some people, like the elderly, pregnant women and parents with young children, public loos are more than just a convenience – they’re a real lifeline.
Rhodri met a group of local people in Tywyn, Gwynedd who all think it’s important that there’s a place to spend a penny nearby.

“As for the elderly and disabled groups, public toilets are a necessity,” explained Delwyn Evans, who is chair of the Meirionnydd Access Group. “People plan their journeys around the toilet stops and if the toilets aren’t there or locked then they’re unable to go out.”

Gwen Stephens from the South Meirionydd Older People’s Forum agrees, “It’s a great shame that they have to be housebound because of a shortage of toilets. For a lady, it’s very embarrassing if you need to go to the loo and there’s no where to go.”

As a pregnant woman and mum of a toddler, Carole Roberts says it’s vital that they’re able to find a toilet at a moment’s notice. “I’ve got a two year old son who I’m potty training so I don’t really want to stop on the high street or the beach and get the potty out so it’s very important that we’ve got somewhere we can quickly access.”

However, the British Toilet Association estimates that in the last decade there’s been a 40 per cent decline in public toilets across the UK and there’s no law forcing local authorities to provide them.

The Welsh Senate of Older People say they’re worried that with councils facing tough spending cuts Wales’ remaining toilets could soon start disappearing from our communities. To try and stop this from happening they say they’d like to see a statutory duty placed on local authorities – forcing them to provide public toilets.

Louise Hughes has been fighting to halt toilet closures for years and is so passionate about the subject that last year she cycled 153 miles from Tywyn to Cardiff Bay to raise awareness of what she says is a “severe lack” of public toilets.

“It all started about three years ago,” Louise explains. “I saw an old lady on the street in Tywyn in floods of tears and it turns out she’d wet herself. I thought this isn’t right. This could be somebody’s mother, somebody’s grandmother and she’d lost all her dignity.

“The way things are going there are going to be no toilet’s left and in rural areas it hits us hardest. In urban areas you have businesses and cafés that you can pop into if you’re desperate but we don’t have that alternative here.

“When toilet blocks are closed it doesn’t stop people needing to use them. You’ve still got to go and that’s when people start to improvise – which is vile.”

At the nearby Cregennan Lakes Louise showed Rhodri what can happen when people are left with nowhere to go, “People come here because it’s so beautiful,” says Louise. “They spend the day here and have a picnic and the toilet block’s closed so they improvise. It’s absolutely dreadful, the smell in the summer is awful. But there’s no toilet so what are people supposed to do?”
The National Trust says it can no longer afford to maintain the toilets and the nearest ones are now two miles down the road. A spokesperson said: “As a charity we have to be very careful and practical about how money is spent, and unless the cost of running the toilets could be covered by those using the car park we simply cannot afford to keep them open.

“The closure of this facility, however, should be no bar to people continuing to enjoy this stunning part of Wales as there are two public toilets nearby, one two miles down the road and another four miles away in Dolgellau.”

Vanessa Phillips from the Welsh Local Government Association, which represents local authorities, says it's a very difficult time for councils as they are having to manage cuts to their budget, "If a council does choose to close a toilet then there are alternatives. Community groups can volunteer to manage the toilets. There's also the community grant scheme where councils can pay businesses to open up their toilets to the public.

“But councils are having to make cuts and the reality is that some services aren't going to be there anymore."

On Wednesday (16 November 2011) the Welsh Senate for Older People will be holding a rally at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay calling for a new law which would force councils to provide public toilets.

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