Poor public lavatories 'put health at risk'

BRITAIN'S public lavatories are in a parlous state. We need them more than ever - yet in the unlikely event that we can find one, the odds are that it is shabby, dirty, ill-lit, isolated and frequented by people selling drugs or soliciting sex, writes David Nicholson-Lord.

According to Public In-Conveniences, a report from the All Mod Cons campaign published yesterday, lack of proper sanitary facilities is damaging the health, dignity and lifestyle of a 'very substantial proportion' of the population - women in particular.

Research has found that only 2 per cent of women sit down on lavatory seats, because of the unpleasant conditions. Yet crouching can result in the retention of urine, resulting in urinary tract infections. For the sake of women's health, they must be provided with clean, unbroken seats. A visit to the lavatory also takes a woman twice as long as a man, yet this is not reflected in the provision of cubicles.

Queues of 10 minutes are common in concert halls or cinemas: sometimes women have to wait for 30 minutes or more. Flushing mechanisms often cease to operate at times of peak demand, rendering lavatories unusable. Research suggests that at least double the present number of women's lavatories are needed.

The report also says British Rail is causing 'huge inconvenience' to travellers by putting turnstiles on station lavatories. Under the Public Lavatories (Turnstiles) Act local authorities are not allowed to do this but BR is 'for no good reason' exempt.

The law that allows authorities to charge for lavatories, but not for urinals, discriminates against women, it adds.