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London is an embarrassment thanks to its lack of public loos

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Tuesday 07 May 2024 16:59 BST
Public toilets are a rare convenience in London these days
Public toilets are a rare convenience in London these days (Getty)

Oliver Keens puts his finger on what may seem a relatively trivial issue but which is now a significant problem for many elderly people living in or visiting London.

Politicians and officials fail routinely to solve many of the big complex issues affecting city dwellers, such as housing shortages and crime; but planners and administrators seem incapable of sorting out even the most straightforward of issues like the adequate provision of on-street public conveniences, which are now a rarity across central London.

Yes, one can nip into a pub, but not everyone feels comfortable in pubs; so one has to carry a map in one’s mind of conveniently located department stores with decent facilities, or of free-to-enter public museums and galleries.

Years ago some Underground stations had loos; they have nearly all disappeared, and only the mainline stations have more or less adequate facilities. However, some like Liverpool Street have almost permanent queues, regular plumbing failures and malfunctioning taps and hand dryers.

How could we have spent billions on station modernisations and the spectacular spaces of the new Elizabeth Line stations without planning any toilet facilities?

Some years ago we visited Tokyo, and on our travels around the city on its vast metro system every single station had free, separate male and female toilets, thoughtfully designed, and regularly and immaculately cleaned. London is such a big tourist destination, how have we allowed our woeful planning and administration to embarrass us in the eyes of foreign visitors, let alone serving our own people so poorly?

Gavin Turner


Taking the p***

Thank you for drawing attention to the decline in public lavatories in the UK and to the plight of those who are hit by their absence. It is probably true to say that most of us have, from time to time, need of a public lavatory, usually in a location distant from our local habitat – and, as a result, have had no say in their lack of presence or design.

My personal interest in this subject stems from my “good” fortune to have been dispatched to a highly expensive boarding school, whose underlying objective was to dehumanise its output so as to be capable, in the days of empire, of not flinching whilst relieving oneself on the Khyber Pass.

Thus, daily business was performed on lidless bowls (freezing in winter) in doorless cubicles directly facing one another. Urination was performed in the traditional (and, even today, cheap and ubiquitous) UK “trough”; which, in times of heavy demand – after much bodily contact and jostling – requires considerable concentration when it comes to performance.

Now, 65 years on, while there have been significant improvements in public lavatory cubicle doors, locks and flushing arrangements, the UK has in my experience not moved forward with urinary furniture. Where bowls exist they are very often very close together with few and far between “token” partitions between them. It is rare that one finds a partition providing effective privacy at shoulder height as are commonplace in public places in the USA and continental Europe.

Such lack of privacy is of no concern to me, but I feel considerable shame at the sight of visitors to the UK from civilised countries being exposed to our poor facilities, especially when arriving at our airports.

Michael du Pré


What’s next for Forbes?

It will be very interesting to see which government post John Swinney gives to Kate Forbes.

It could, of course, be finance, which she has done previously, and it seems likely that there will be a vacancy there with Shona Robison presumably, and deservedly, on the way out.

But perhaps Swinney will choose a cruel and unusual punishment for his erstwhile rival. He could gift her the poisoned chalice that is the health brief. That would keep her very busy indeed, with no time for mischief-making.

I would prefer her to become education minister, where she has had sensible things to say about pupils needing to learn that hard work and perseverance are the answer, not dumbing down.

Jill Stephenson

Glenlockhart Valley

The definition of insanity

Following the Tories’ loss of support in the local and mayoral elections, you would have thought they would take stock and realise their policies are not exactly popular with the electorate. But no, they continue to lurch even further to the right and seem to think that this is the answer to their problems.

To quote Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The sooner we are rid of them the better. Let’s have an election now!

Andy Vant

Bridgnorth, Shropshire

Sunak should save the soul of the Conservative Party

The kindest, most responsible action Rishi Sunak can do to save the soul of the Conservative Party is to call a general election – now! Before the canker of right-wing extremism kills the entire Tory tree.

Britain needs vibrant politicians, who recognise the inherent decency of the British people, governing from the centre ground. An effective opposition is required in the future to challenge a possible march to the left by a Labour government.

History tells us that it is the propensity for extremism that delineates the length of time a political party, from the left and right, remains in office; self-control and an effective opposition are, therefore, essential for successful governance.

David Smith


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