Edinburgh public toilets: More permanent toilets needed at Portobello beach, says UK toilet campaign group

Real cost of portable toilets would be ‘double’ price quoted to MP
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Portobello needs extra permanent toilets rather than temporary loos for the summer, a UK campaign group has said.

As the weather improved and numbers heading to the seaside increased, Edinburgh East SNP MP Tommy Sheppard raised concerns about people relieving themselves in alleyways and gardens in the area. And he said he had got a quote of just under £4,000 for the installation of portable loos during the two busiest months of the year.

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But Raymond Martin, managing director of the British Toilet Association, said temporary toilets would only go so far in remedying the situation and claimed the real cost could be double the price given to Mr Sheppard. Mr Martin told the BBC: “Putting portable toilets out onto a beach, yes it will help us during the day but it’s going to bring a number of other issues: the cleansing of these toilets; who's going to look after them during the day; what’s going to happen at night – are they going to be taken away, are they going to be vandalised? We really need a proper toilet at Portobello as we do in many other places.”

Public toilets Bath street Portobello.  Picture: Ian Georgeson.Public toilets Bath street Portobello.  Picture: Ian Georgeson.
Public toilets Bath street Portobello. Picture: Ian Georgeson.

There are already two public toilets in Portobello – at Bath Street and Pipe Lane – and the council has indicated it will look to increase provision on a temporary basis. But Mr Martin said the £3,928 quote obtained by Tommy Sheppard from a portable toilet provider for a block of six over eight weeks would only be part of the real cost. He said: “You can’t just put them there and come and get them six weeks later – they’re going to have to be cleaned twice a day, they’re going to have to be emptied because there would be some sort of chemical tank underneath them. I reckon there would be the same again in cost just to keep them there for the eight weeks.”

And Mr Martin said permanent toilet provision should be increased. “We just don’t have enough public toilets around the country and it's something we must address because it’s a human rights and a health issue. Toilets actually bring money into an area – they help to bring footfall, they help to keep people in the area, enjoying the area and spending their money. It has been proven many times that toilets are not something that cost the council money – if you put a proper toilet in place and put a small charge on it, the toilet can be cost neutral at best and maybe even make a small profit. Toilets are an essential part of infrastructure – if we want people to come to an area we need to give them the proper provision they require.”

In a letter to city council chief executive Andrew Kerr, Mr Sheppard said recent warm spells had resulted in people urinating and defecating in alleyways and private gardens near the beach and warned things would only get worse as it got into summertime. He said: “The awful scenes witnessed by residents and seafront businesses in Portobello have become increasingly unacceptable in recent summers. The distress caused cannot be overstated; no one should have to clean up after another human being in this way.

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"This is a public health and sanitation issue that cannot be ignored. By allocating funds for the installation of free-to-use loos, the council will not only address the distressing scenes we’ve seen in recent summers but also prioritise public health and preserve the reputation of Portobello as one of Scotland favourite family seaside destinations. Residents, small businesses, and visitors to Porty deserve better.”

Public Toilets at Pipe Lane, Portobello.  Picture: Ian Georgeson.Public Toilets at Pipe Lane, Portobello.  Picture: Ian Georgeson.
Public Toilets at Pipe Lane, Portobello. Picture: Ian Georgeson.

Council transport and environment convener Scott Arthur said: “We’re committed to delivering high quality and accessible toilets at Portobello Prom, as well as in other key locations across the city. This is set out in our public conveniences strategy. We already have two toilet blocks in Portobello but recognise the growing popularity of the area and the importance of public conveniences to support this so will look to enhance the current provision on a temporary basis. We also call on other organisations to ensure their facilities can be used by the public wherever possible. We very much hope the Visitor Levy for Edinburgh will help address exactly this kind of issue.

“However, there is no excuse for this kind of behaviour anywhere in the city. I’d also ask everyone out enjoying the beach responsibly – use the public toilets and, it goes without saying, if there isn’t one nearby, hold it in till you get home.”