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Case Study: Westminster


Theme – Evening Provision

Westminster:ButterflyUrinalWestminster in the heart of London has won multiple awards from the British Toilet Association (BTA) for its provision and management of public conveniences. It is estimated that London receives 28 million visitors a year – many of whom will visit Westminster for its major landmarks and tourist attractions. Westminster therefore offers a unique perspective on public toilet provision as, although the borough has a small percentage of residents, its ‘population’ increases dramatically when considering those who work in or visit the area. During 2003, the council estimated that its public conveniences received over 10.5 million users. The Council currently operates 26 facilities around the borough, all of which are attended. Per user, Westminster’s provision costs on average between 2p – 48p per flush.


Westminster is also the major centre for London’s nightlife and, accordingly, the Council has provided public toilet provision to support the evening economy. Much of the borough’s central provision is open until midnight, whilst 2 public conveniences, located at Leicester Square and Covent Garden, are open 24 hours. Figures for usage of the Leicester Square facilities during 2003 show that over 1.5 million people used the provision, with over 90% of footfall taking place in the evening. Additional 24 hour toilet facilities are supplied by Automatic Public Conveniences (APCs), which in 2003 received over 9,500 users a month.


In 2001, following complaints by local residents and businesses regarding the problem of street urination, Westminster sought to increase its evening provision by installing urinals in key areas of the city. Currently, the council provides 4 purpose built permanent urinal facilities, supplemented at weekends by 12 temporary urinals. The permanent urinals were first installed in 2001, and were co-designed by Westminster Council and Danfo. Known as the ‘Butterfly’ urinal, this permanent structure opens out to provide 2 purpose built urinal areas. In 2002, this provision was supplemented by Uri-lifts, purpose built urinals that are kept underground during the daytime, to be raised in the evenings by remote control. Both the butterfly urinals and the Uri-lifts are open from dusk to sunrise. It is estimated that each urinal cost £10,000 to install.


The installation of urinals at key sites where known street urination was taking place has resulted in a reduced need for street cleansing of the area. It is estimated that on average 50,000 men use the urinals annually, whilst the users of temporary facilities are estimated to be between 5-6000 each weekend. Whilst observing night time facilities during the course of this research, we found that the urinals were extremely popular with male users. In some instances we observed men queuing to use the facilities. Yet, equally, we observed men deciding not to queue who ventured off to find another area to urinate in.


During our street surveys of city centres, Westminster scored the lowest for those respondents who thought there was a problem with street urination in the area. 45% thought there was, compared to 55% in Manchester and 59% in Sheffield. Westminster’s provision, especially its permanent urinal facilities, has become a benchmark for evening toilet provision. The urinals are often demonstrated to council representatives from around the UK, as well as international parties.


Westminster concedes that this form of single gender provision is far from perfect. Yet, the success in terms of numbers of users, illustrates how important the introduction of urinals has been to the night life of the borough. It is interesting to reflect on the fact that the popular Uri-lift, a hi-tech solution to street urination, echoes the first public toilets that were installed in the nineteenth century that were also for male only users. Indeed, it can be argued that such provision not only excludes women, but also excludes men who may not wish to use urinals because they are too shy to urinate so openly, or because they have pollution concerns due to their faith. In addition, these urinals do not adequately serve the needs of men with disabilities who cannot stand to urinate. Whilst the cost/benefit ratio in offering such facilities can be seen to be in favour of urinal provision, a question still remains about whether providing facilities of this kind to tackle the effects of street urination is not really addressing the cause.

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