According to the National Public Toilet Map, there are 36 public toilets in the City of Yarra. More are needed in busy shopping and entertainment areas. Although it doesn’t confirm this number, the council acknowledges that more toilets are needed on its website. In a page dated 2007 (that is carefully hidden in the roads section), the council states:
Council proposes to strategically locate new public toilet facilities throughout the municipality in key shopping precincts and business activity centres to continue to support and provide this vital service to the community.
The proposed facilities would provide much needed amenities for all members of the community who require access to clean, well maintained, safe and accessible facilities when shopping, walking or cycling in the City of Yarra.
The proposed facilities would be similar in design, function and appearance to the facility that is installed in Kerr Street, near the intersection with Smith Street, in Fitzroy. The proposed design is a unisex, fully accessible, automated and self cleaning model.
As recently as February 2009 Yarra was announcing in its newsletter (1.85mb PDF) that:
Council proposes to strategically locate new public toilet facilities over the next few years at:
- The corner of Brunswick Street and Westgarth Street, Fitzroy
- The corner of Queens Parade and Michael Street, North Fitzroy
- The corner of Nicholson Street and Park Street, North Fitzroy.
So why then in May 2009 is the council instead considering outsourcing the provision of public toilets to private businesses? I read a pathetic statement from City of Yarra mayor Amanda Stone in the Herald Sun on 22 April 2009. It states that she claims that “problems with safety or cost made it difficult for councils to build more [public] toilets.” What utter twaddle.
The City of Yarra rejects plans to build public toilets not on cost but on indifference to community need. In 2008 council rejected a proposal to build a new public toilet on Gertrude St and instead wasted $6000 by giving it to the Business on Smith St traders group so they could build a website that, 10 months later, is still to be published.
The Herald Sun reports that “Inner-city visitors and residents busting to go to the loo could be given relief by a public-private toilet venture. Yarra Council is talking to business owners about opening their bathrooms to the public in exchange for discounted rates.”
Following the Herald Sun article, the Melbourne Leader ran a story on the issue on 28 April 2009 on its website (it also features in the 29 April 2009 print issue) but there has not been any public consultation that I am aware of. The idea is not listed on the consultation page of the council’s website (as of 3 May 2009).
Is this idea aimed at cafes and pubs with existing customer toilet facilities, or more broadly at any business? What about bakeries, fashion shops and banks? Many of the former should cope well with the plan as they already perform this service so some extent, but many of the latter may not be able to participate.
The toilet facilities of Yarra businesses, often housed in heritage protected buildings, can be cramped and basic (based on those of friends and acquaintances). They would not meet the standards of accessibility required for people with visual or mobility disabilities, much less the standards of gender neutrality and accessibility set by the Melbourne Toilart project.
What is the estimated cost? Does this represent good value for money? How will it be monitored to ensure that businesses earn their discount? How much will businesses be expected to be paid (albeit indirectly) to clean up other people’s shit?
Is it fair and equitable? Will it meet equal opportunity, anti-discrimination and occupational health and safety requirements for customers and business staff? Will retail staff now be expected to also become toilet cleaners?
How will the scheme be marketed? How will the public report their experiences to the council? Will businesses that receive multiple complaints lose their rates discount?
Who will take responsibility for problems? Will businesses be expected to deal with accidents or injuries to toilet users on their premises, for example if someone slips over on a wet floor? Whose public indemnity insurance will cover this scenario?
Will businesses have the right to refuse potentially dangerous people? How will they justify allowing some people in and refusing access to others? What about homeless, drunk and mentally ill people?
How will someone who doesn’t meet the dress code of the pub be able to enter the pub to go to the toilet? Will women and heterosexuals be allowed into gay pubs in Collingwood that have policies excluding them?
This scheme is naive and inappropriate. The City of Yarra’s toilet politics stink. Giving businesses a discount on their rates in exchange for letting a few people off the street use their toilet is never going to meet the needs of the residents of, and visitors to, the area. A real public toilets one that is open to the public without having to ask permission or meet entry standards.
I’m not the only person who is underwhelmed and annoyed by the Citry of Yarra’s planning priorities. There’s a great rant on this blog about planning stupidity and a win against the City of Yarra at VCAT.