Under the current Labour administration, we have seen a dramatic cut in the council’s provision of public toilets citywide. There are now more former public toilets in Bristol than open public toilets. Central Ward has been disproportionately hit by this wave of cuts. In response to criticism of the scale of these cuts, Bristol City Council introduced the Community Toilets Scheme (CTS). This is a voluntary initiative for local businesses (namely bars and restaurants), to provide the public with access to their toilet facilities.
The Bristol Liberal Democrats have long opposed the closure of public toilets throughout the city. The lack of provision of public toilets is an affront to people’s dignity and massively short-changes taxpayers. When questioned on this issue former Labour Central Councillor Paul Smith has been flippant and evasive. During the pandemic temporary public toilets set up in the centre by the council were at times locked during stated opening hours. Bristol Liberal Democrat leader Gary Hopkins has called public toilets “a pretty vital resource the city council is generally expected to provide”.
What are our priorities on this issue as Liberal Democrat candidates for Central? Our position is that Bristol City Council should not rely on private provision to make up for the lack of facilities caused by the cuts. To this end we will support the opening of accessible facilities in the ward. In principle we support the CTS. However, we believe the Central Ward Councillors, and the wider Bristol City Council, need to publicise the CTS scheme more widely especially to local hospitality businesses. We would also explore options for Bristol City Council to provide some sort of insurance cover or compensation to businesses participating in the CTS. We maintain our stance that the CTS will only work meaningfully in combination with proactive councillors encouraging more businesses to join the initiative, and a strategic easing of the public toilet cuts. The Council’s approach in assessing the toilet cuts in numbers per ward is not enough, the placement of these facilities must be considered in terms of placement and accessibility to maximise their value.
For us this issue is not only a question of a basic provision of council services, but also a question of human dignity and rights in public areas.