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Case Study: Manchester


Theme – Civic buildings and Transport Interchange



Automatic Public Conveniences (APCs) make up the majority of Manchester‟s city centre provision, yet these may be considered inaccessible to many people with disabilities. (Bichard 2005) VivaCity 2020Manchester City Centre is one of the main economic centres of the North West Region. It has over 6,000 businesses which employ around 120,000 people and it is the region's main retail and entertainment destination. Since the early 1990’s, Manchester has seen massive investment and rapid change and renewal. The city’s outlying areas house one of the largest university campuses in Europe, which accommodates approximately 65,000 students who also access the city centre’s entertainment and retail outlets. In addition, Manchester has increasingly become a major tourist destination. In 2004 it was estimated that 770,000 overseas visitors went to Manchester making it the third most popular city destination in the UK, after London and Edinburgh (Marketing Manchester 2004).


Manchester has a thriving cultural centre comprising of some of the most highly acclaimed museums in the country, including; The Museum of Science and Industry Manchester, The Lowry, The Manchester Art Gallery, the Imperial War Museum North, Urbis and the Manchester Museum. Together these museums attracted 1.7 million visitors in 2004 (Marketing Manchester 2004).


Opened in 1992, the Manchester Metrolink Light Rail Tram system is considered one of the most successful tram networks in the UK and has become an iconic image for the city. It transported over 18 million people in 2004. Manchester city centre has one purpose built public toilet facility located near the Town Hall. The rest of the city centre’s toilet provision is supplied by six Automatic Public Conveniences (APCs). The public’s acceptance and use of APCs in Manchester was notable in our street surveys, as over 70% of respondents answered that they ‘would use’ an APC. This acceptance rate was over double Sheffield’s ‘would use’ rate (31%) and over five times the ‘would use’ rate in Westminster (14%). Yet, although seemingly more accepting of APCs, nearly 90% of respondents also felt there should be more conventional public toilet facilities in Manchester.


Access audits carried out on Manchester’s APCs found that the facilities did not conform to Manchester’s own current access guidance (Design for Access II) or to the British Standard BS8300. Problematic areas of design of the APC included:

  • the WC pan, which was not set at the recommended height of 480mm,

  • the configuration of grab rails, which were not in line with current guidance,

  • poor lighting, and

  • operating instructions all signed in upper case.


Therefore, for many people with disabilities, APCs may not be an option when needing to use toilet facilities in the city centre. Another option for those requiring toilets are the facilities available at central transport hubs, such as railway stations and the new Manchester Transport Interchange. The accessible facility at Piccadilly Station did not conform to guidelines in respect of its cubicle size or grab rail configuration. By contrast, the newer accessible facilities at Manchester Transport Interchange have gone beyond the minimum requirement in respect of cubicle size, which measures 2600 mm in depth by 1650 mm in width. The cubicle contained all of the recommended grab rails in a contrasting colour from the walls, although three were found to be fixed at incorrect heights and distances from the WC pan.


As a popular destination for visitors to Manchester, the research focused its audits on the most important civic buildings. We visited 10 civic buildings located in and around Manchester’s city centre (museums, Central Library and a cinema / arts complex). The larger museums will often have more then one accessible toilet facility, and it was surprising to find how much discrepancy there would be between 2 or 3 toilets within the same premises. In one of the City’s newer museums, we found three accessible facilities, all with different cubicle dimensions. One of these did not meet the minimum recommended dimensional guidelines. None of the cubicles had the full configuration of grab rails set at the recommended heights or distances, or the recommended height of 480mm for the WC pan. Given the differing cubicle size dimensions, each accessible cubicle was also laid out and fitted in different a way. Such design variability in the accessible toilets provided within one building can be seen to illustrate one of the major issues that respondents to surveys and interviewees spoke about, namely the lack of standardisation in the design of the accessible cubicle. Where disabled people find that no two cubicles are alike, they have to negotiate access in a different way for every toilet they use.


In the 10 Civic buildings we visited, we audited 14 accessible cubicles and found that only 5 were of the minimum recommended dimensions in respect of the cubicle size. One feature that did stand out in the accessible facilities was the inclusion of sanitary dispensers in three of the cubicles and a condom dispenser (although broken) in one cubicle. However, although included in cubicles they were fitted too high, as the coin slot would be beyond the reach of women who may not be able to stand or who are of short stature.


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