Angelica Morrison stands at London’s most expensive toilet. Opened eight months ago in Covent Garden it is a fancy lavatory, owned by the trendy 2theloo Company. But it costs. As Morrison finds out, it is £1 to enter and she had no choice but to pay.
Neoliberalism, which turns everything into a business, has reached London’s toilets. Since London’s first toilet, resting areas have moved on to being more than just a place to “relieve one self”. They have turned towards the same direction as the Romans after the introduction of sanitation.
According to the British Toilet Association (BTA), over 600 restrooms are believed to have closed down, with another 22 more underway. Raymond Martin, Managing Director of BTA, says the closure has affected the public tremendously. “We have actually lost 50 per cent of the toilets in the last 10 years… and this is because the government has cut down on council budgets,” he explains.
London has experienced the “highest decline in the numbers of local authority owned and run public toilets in the country”, according to a report commissioned by the Health and Public Services Committee. “Government figures estimate the decline to be 16 per cent in four years while other figures indicate a closure rate of up to 40 per cent in just over five years,” reads the report. Some boroughs are also reported to have stopped providing toilets directly.
The insufficient number of free public toilets in recent years means people like Morrison must pay to use local facilities in the capital. This resulted in the 2theloo company partnering up with Covent Garden shopping centre to open a new facility late last year, that offers customers a “better than at home” experience as part of a strategy to tackle the loo issue.
Chief Executive Officer of 2theloo, Almar Holtz, says: “Together we set the global standard for clean public toilets. The opening of Covent Garden -our first UK store- is a big milestone and brings us one step closer to reaching our mission.”
The award-winning loo, which is fitted with soundproof walls and 100 per cent non-touch, has a family room, nursery, toilets for the disabled and a make-up area. It is also fitted with a “toilet store” filled with refreshments and toiletries among other necessities. A round-the-clock cleaning staff is also there to clean the restrooms after every use.
London has a lack of clean and comfortable toilets. 2theloo, which is based in Amsterdam, plans to extend its services to other retail areas, including railway and petrol stations. Founder Holtz says the public will start seeing his loos all across London very soon. He explains when the move could take place below.
London residents Olivia Hynes, 25, and Jake Bhardway, 23, criticise the approach. They claim that the fancy toilet facilities usually mean, “the public will have to fork out more money to use them”, especially when there are already some local authority lavatories and businesses charging 20p-50p. Last year, London Mayor Boris Johnson, announced that the toilets on Trafalgar Square would start charging each person 20p per use.
Last year these train stations bagged in millions because of loo visits according to data released by Network Rail.
Station Charge Income
Victoria 50p £2,3 million
Euston 30p £1,8 million
Kings Cross 30p £1,4 million
Paddington 30p £1,2 million
London Liverpool St 30p £1,1 million
Charing Cross station 30p £654,000
London Bridge 30p £359,000
Raymond, who campaigns for better toilet facilities, however, does not agree. He says these days’ £1 a time isn’t uncommon. In a telephone interview with Westminster World he states why payment is necessary.
Holtz adds that visitors using the 2theloo, receive a discount voucher to redeem in the toilet shop or other shops in the area, so their visits are practically free.
First-time toilet visitor Morrison says that she did notice the complimentary ticket at the doorway but almost threw it away as she thought it was a regular receipt. “Perhaps they should put a small note on the door to alert customers that the coin machine prints out vouchers,” says the Lewisham native.
Last year, a London newsletter, Londonist asked its readers through Facebook if they had ever visited a resting area that requires them to pay more than 50p a visit. Most of the people who responded said yes, with some answering that they paid more because the toilets were clean and provided the basic necessities like quality toilet papers and towels.
A survey conducted by Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (SCA), a global hygiene and forest products company, says that factors such as bad toilet hygiene can actually discourage customers from visiting an establishment. Nearly a third of the 500 guests who were interviewed about their preference have experienced disappointment in the level of cleanliness they have encountered in a toilet area. While six out of ten female respondents feel that poor hygiene in public spaces limits their lives.
However, it seems even the level of cleanliness is not enough. Jake, who is originally from Manchester, says: “No, people should not pay to use a loo, especially in London. There should be public facilities for people [at all places],” says Jack. “Where I come from, we don’t even pay, regardless of what is provided in a loo.”
New approaches, however, are necessary. The City of London, through a Community Toilet Scheme, has teamed up with some local businesses to allow non-customers free access to their toilets during trading hours. Participating companies include the Old Red Cow, Chi Noodle Bar and the Rising Sun. They can be located through the City’s interactive map.
Morrison says sometimes those are hard to find as they are only found in certain areas. In the meantime, she will continue to use the 2theloo toilets just because “they offer satisfactory services”.
Subedited: Diana Odero