A THIRD of Scotland’s remaining public toilets face being sold off or closed as councils battle to balance the books, sparking calls for them to become a human right. 

New research shows that while squeezed budgets mean Scotland's 32 local authorities are under pressure to save every penny, it means there are far fewer places in our high streets and tourist hotspots to spend one.

Data provided by local authorities shows that there are now 724 council-run public toilets around Scotland - 185 fewer than in 2013.

It has led to new concerns that councils, which are not legally required to provide toilets, are increasingly looking to offload the responsibility for them or close them to cut costs.


Herald research has revealed the number of councils who now no longer run any public toilets toilets at all has risen from one to three in the past five years - as they increasingly look to either close them or sell them off.

It shows that as of September some 243 further free conveniences had their futures under question either because local authorities are looking to offload them through new ownership or they are up for closure.

Pressure group the British Toilet Association which fears those under review could also end up disappearing has called for public toilets to become a human right enshrined in law and want legislation that forces councils to provide enough facilities for the elderly, disabled people or tourists.

They say accessible free toilets are vital to our everyday lives, while being a necessity for people with accessibility needs and parents with young children. It says they also bring extended relief for hundreds of thousands of Scotland's visitors including day trippers.

A spokesman for the Use Our Loos campaign run by the BTA said: "Public toilets are an essential piece of infrastructure for all types of users as they fulfil a significant role in our health and ongoing well-being. If we can't dispel the poisons building up inside our guts then we run the risk of falling sick or ill during our working day or when driving.

"The continued closure of publicly accessible toilets will inevitability lead to greatly increased public urination and street fouling and thereby increased financial burdens on both the councils and the police.


"As human beings we need to eat, sleep, drink, breathe and go to the toilet. Failure to do any one of these life functions will inevitability become life threatening so each should be considered a human right and a human necessity."

North Ayrshire home to popular tourist destinations such as Arran has experienced the biggest public toilet cuts in the past five years . Only nine of the 45 public toilets that were available in 2013 now remain.

The research derived from official data given to the Herald reveals a postcode lottery of council public toilet availability.

Clackmannanshire became the latest to go to zero after closing its only public toilet in October. The council said it had sought to " protect essential services while improving the council's financial sustainability". 

South Lanarkshire became the second local authority to run no public toilets at all having cut all 19, and blamed it on Scottish Government spending cuts.

East Renfrewshire also has none, North Lanarkshire cut three over the five years and now has one, while East Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire have two and Falkirk has four having cut 14.


Two years ago East Dunbartonshire Council gave a nail salon permission to move into a former Scottish tourist information building in Milngavie - on condition that people can use it as a public toilet after council-run loos were shut as a cost-cutting measure.

Highland, a tourism-leaning area, has 96 public toilets, the most in Scotland, but have cut 14 in the past five years, and have five more facing the possible axe with a further 19 under scrutiny with plans for either partnerships or divestment.

That's despite the Chancellor announcing in October that owners will no longer pay business rates on public toilets.

Allan Henderson, chairman of the council's environment, development and infrastructure committee said: "The council provides, by far, the biggest network of public conveniences in the UK and with the changes we plan to make, will still provide the most public toilets of any council.

“Public toilets are an important part of our tourist infrastructure, but we needed to consider where they are actually most needed and used together with the limited and dwindling resources we have available to provide this non-statutory service.

“Our review and our work with partners will actually enhance the strategic toilet portfolio across the Highlands. The eventual outcome will make for a comprehensive network of facilities with far better facilities than we have now and a better system of management.”

Argyll and Bute has the second most public loos in Scotland with 70, having cut none in the last five years. It said closures were looked at in February and were voted against, but were "open to requests from local communities and private enterprise" over their toilets network.

Aberdeenshire has lost control of 15 and still has 68, while Dumfries and Galloway which has lost just one and also has 68 said it would consider "any proposal" over passing their ownership on.


Scottish Borders Council said it had launched an exercise to identify a potential third party partner to "design, operate and manage" its 41 public toilets.

The Scottish Greens have succeeded in getting an amendment to the new Planning Bill which will oblige councils to consider the provision of public conveniences as part of local development plans.

If the bill becomes law, then all planning authorities will have to make a statement in local plans about how to improve provision.

Scottish Greens health spokesperson Alison Johnstone MSP said the decline in public toilets is bad for public health as many people have conditions which are more manageable where there is easy access to bathroom facilities.

"It’s also bad for our communities as many people, including parents with young children and the elderly, are put off using town and city centre parks and other public spaces when there’s no toilet nearby. This is an essential service and a basic human right," she said.

“When the Planning Bill is passed it will send a strong message to local authorities that this issue can no longer be overlooked.”

Analysis: Public toilets - Where have they all gone? 

By Raymond Martin
Managing Director 
The British Toilet Association

For every one of us leaving our homes or places of residence and travelling any distance to work or on holiday, where to stop for a toilet break can be a major source of worry. 
Public toilet provision has been declining for a number of years and some high streets and tourist hot spots now no longer have any council-run public toilets. 
The BTA has estimated that around 50% of public toilets across the UK have stopped being maintained by councils since 2010, whilst demographically the population has been increasing.

Local authorities are not legally required to provide toilets, meaning they are often closed as councils look to cut costs.  We will of course recognise and work closely with councils who are doing everything they can to keep public toilets open, but substantial reductions to their budgets have meant they have had to make "tough choices" about many or all of the public facilities that they have installed over the last thirty/forty years.

Toilets are a "hugely valuable community amenity". They help and allow many residents with a wide range of accessibility issues to shop locally and thereby engender great feelings of social inclusion within their region. This helps local shopkeepers and traders to continue to service our town and village centres. 

They are essential for travellers and tourists to offer very welcome relief after a long journey – often the most essential element. With the decline in numbers we are already experiencing increasing reports of street fouling and public exposure as individuals relieve themselves in shop doorways and at the sides of the road. 
Concerns are growing and surely no one wants our beautiful streets and pavements covered in muck and filth? Are we headed backwards towards a third-world status in sanitation?

Failure to go to the toilet can be as serious as failing to take a breath. As humans we all need to eat, sleep, breathe, drink and go to the toilet – failure to regularly complete any of these basic fundamentals can have a severe effect on our ongoing well-being and long term health. Poisons that build up in our bodies must be expelled and retaining these toxins can cause dizziness, lead to bouts of unconsciousness, high blood pressure, stroke perhaps leading to a heart attack. When you consider how many times many of us get behind the wheel of a car, van or lorry and race through the streets trying to find a loo - give a thought to the dangerous conditions building up inside our bodies, minute by minute. 

So we are now faced with a burgeoning moral dilemma. Why do successive governments not provide legal guidance or more importantly sufficient financial support to allow local councils to provide this fundamental basic service? Clean, hygienic toilet facilities that every resident, visitor, tourist and particularly those of us suffering with either severe medical or physical accessibility issues absolutely require every time we leave the safety and sanctity of our own home.

Public toilets are about public health & well-being, equality, social inclusion and just as importantly - public decency and public dignity. The BTA is delighted to report that many retailers are increasingly willing to open up their toilets to the public and allow them to use their facilities without a purchase.

Council run community toilet schemes and the 'Use our Loo’s' scheme are helping to revitalise the high streets – but they can’t fully replace the purpose built publicly accessible toilet blocks that are open from dawn to dusk and offer such welcome relief to all types of users as they stop to shop or simply travel by.