| home | site map |


Public toilets

One of a series of street environment design guides.

Description of the element

photograph of an outside public toilet

This design guide provides information on the design, siting and maintenance of public toilets.

The adjacent photograph shows an example of a good loo – well signposted, good entrance to assist with access and egress, facilities for less able and disabled users; well maintained; appropriately sited in an area of public demand.


The British Standards Institute provide guidance on toilet installation in general.
BSI (1996) BS6465. Sanitary Installations Parts 1 and 2. Additionally, BS8300 also provides further information on designing an accessible toilet cubicle

Professor Clara Greed (2003) in her book Inclusive Urban Design: Public Toilets provides a frank review of the design issues around public toilets both in the UK and abroad. She provides comprehensive guidance on the design and siting of public toilets. In relation to the siting of toilets, of particular note are her comments that it is vital to provide toilets in locations ‘where there are significant numbers of pedestrians walking past, standing and waiting for buses, or for shops to open, as part of an integrated, user related urban design policy….. and in areas of open space, not just parks’. She also provides guidance on the siting of the toilet block with the designated plot of land.

The Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) (Lacey 2004) provide information on the design of an accessible toilet cubicle within a building and this can be easily adapted for providing an accessible cubicle within a public toilet block.

The British Toilet Association is a campaigning organisation, and their work includes the provision of public toilets (or the lack of them!).

The Accessible Toilet Design Resource (Hansen and Bichard 2007) covers the results of three years of research on the design of away from home (public) toilets in city centres. The resource covers all aspects of the design (including tools and templates) and management of the accessible loo, including the requirements of families with young children, older people and people of faith communities.

top of page What older people tell us they prefer and why

Our participants prefer not to use toilets that are inaccessible or poorly maintained. Typical comments by older people are:

“Toilets are always dirty and vandalized”

Additionally, there is a lack of provision:

“There is not enough of them, they are closed a lot and they are in shops - you can’t walk to them because shop owners mind – unlike on the continent”
“There’s not enough toilets in the countryside and along canals”

Findings from our survey

Seven focus groups were conducted by SURFACE and WISE with older people in Greater Manchester, Brecon and London. One aspect of the focus group discussions involved asking the participants about the problems with their external neighbourhood environment. Public toilets were consistently referred to as being insufficient in number (particularly at shops and in the countryside); existing public toilets being unclean and not properly maintained; vandalism of toilets; and short opening times such that toilets were quite often closed.

In detailed face-to-face interviews by SURFACE and WISE with 200 older people living in Greater Manchester and Oxford, one of the questions we asked participants was how on how the environment could be improved. Whilst the answers placed emphasis on improving poor maintenance of paving, lack of seating and cars parked on pavements, for example, public toilets were also referred to, with participants again raising the issues of insufficient number, cleanliness, poor signposting to toilets and suggesting having attendants in toilets may be helpful.

SURFACE and WISE also undertook a detailed physical audit of the provision of toilet facilities in neighbourhoods. The sample was based on the 200 participants from the above interviews. This showed that only 16% of participants’ neighbouhoods had public toilets. This places a heavy reliance on the finding of alternative provision, particularly for some older people for whom incontinence is a real problem when carrying out their day to day activities in their local neighbourhood environment.

We looked at the questionnaires conducted by OPENspace to see whether toilet facilities affect older people’s use of outdoor space. The following results are based on cross-sectional surveys in the UK In Questionnaire 1 we had 280 responses, and in Questionnaire 2 we had 237 responses.

In Questionnaire 1, we found that good facilities, including the existence of toilets predicted the amount of time participants spent outdoors either walking (to go to places or for recreation) or pursuing other activities, such as gardening. In other words, toilet facilities, perhaps in combination with other facilities, made it more likely that respondents would spend longer out of doors.

In Questionnaire 2, we asked older people to consider different situations, to see what attributes (features) of an open space make the most difference in their preference. In this analysis, toilets are most important when they come in conjunction with cafes. In other words, respondents’ share of preference increases when café/toilets appear together. Perhaps toilets associated with a café are more attractive for a number of reasons (they will be in a building, with supervision from the café, may be considered more likely to be clean, etc), other than the fact they will be more necessary in such situations. However, we were not able to explore the reasons behind these results.

When comparing with other attributes (features) of an open space:

  • Questionnaire respondents would forgo having a café and toilets, to have only toilets, in order to have a park free from nuisance, such as groups of youngsters hanging around. Now, if the choice is between having no café/toilets at all and no nuisance versus some level of nuisance and the presence of café/toilets, respondents would be willing to cope with the annoyance caused by groups of youngsters, dog fouling and signs of vandalism in order to keep a good quality open space with café/toilets.
  • However, when the choice involves the presence of trees, respondents would forgo facilities (i.e. café/toilets) in order to have tree-lined paths and dense trees/plants in their local open spaces.


Existing guidance is comprehensive, but it concentrates on the design of a toilet cubicle, rather than the design of a public toilet block that provides facilities that can be easily used by older people. The work by Vivacity (to be published in April – need the ref) provides a good basis for designing an inclusive ‘away from home’ loo. Based on the findings from our research, it is additionally recommend that:

  • Public toilets are provided appropriate locations (Greed 2003)
    • all main public transport termini and stations and major car parks;
    • central areas, district centres and local shopping centres;
    • all parks, allotments, urban farms and leisure areas;
    • at major junctions and by post offices in all suburban areas;
    • out of town developments;
    • in villages over 5000 population;
    • every 5 miles along main roads.
  • Additionally public toilets are provided in areas that may have a higher concentration of older people
  • Consideration is given to the opening hours of toilets, such that they are open when people will want to use them and not just on a 9am to 5pm basis
  • Maintenance and cleanliness should be addressed as part of a structured approach by a local authority
  • Facilities should be provided for less able users (anecdotal evidence suggests that local authorities are closing public toilets rather than upgrading them to meet the requirements of the UK Disability Discrimination Act 1995, 2005).

Where to find further information

BSI (1996) BS6465. Sanitary Installations Parts 1 and 2. London. British Standards Institute.
www.bsi.gov.uk and www.bsionline.techindex.co.uk

BSI, BS8300:2001. Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people – Code of Practice. London. British Standards Institute.

Greed, C. 2003. Inclusive Urban Design: Public Toilets. Oxford. Architectural Press.

Hansen, J and Bichard, J (2007). The toilet paper. Volume 1, Issue 4, available at www.vivacity2020.eu/publications. This provides background to, and contact details for the Accessible Toilet Design Resource.

Lacey, A. 2004. Designing for Accessibility. London. Centre for Accessible Environments and RIBA Enterprises.

Lacey, A. 2004. The Good Loo Design Guide. London. Centre for Accessible Environments and RIBA Enterprises.

The British Toilet Association www.britloos.co.uk


This Design Guide is first printed in 2007 and is protected by Copyright Notice © Rita Newton and Marcus Ormerod, I’DGO Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors.

Corresponding author of this Design Guide:

Rita Newton, SURFACE Inclusive Design Research Centre, The University of Salford, Maxwell Building, The Crescent, Salford, M5 4WT, UK. Email:r.newton@salford.ac.uk

top of page

I'DGO - Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors. Last updated December 2007

copyright © 2004-13 I’DGO
webmaster F Wilkie - Gusmedia Web Design
| Valid CSS! | Valid HTML 4.01!|