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Call to extend tax relief on public toilets to libraries and community centres

By PA News

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Planned tax breaks for public toilets should be extended to libraries and community centres that offer facilities for free, ministers have been told.

The call came as peers continued their scrutiny of the Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill.

The legislation, which will cover England and Wales, aims to foster the provision of public toilets by exempting them from business rates.

Labour frontbencher Lord Kennedy of Southwark pressed for the tax relief to also apply to libraries, community centres, and other council properties, which provided lavatory facilities to the public.

Urging the Bill to be extended, he said: “There are clear and undeniable public health benefits to having toilets that are available for the public to use.

“This amendment seeks to increase that provision.

“I recognise that in some cases, libraries and other public buildings already make their toilet facilities available to the public.

“This amendment supports them for doing that, but goes further, as it provides a welcome encouragement for those facilities that do not have the same access provision to be made available to the public.

“There has been a noticeable decline in public facilities over recent years, and this amendment seeks to reverse that trend by providing rate relief as an encouragement either to continue with the access presently provided or to extend access to the public to take advantage of this rate relief.”

Signage for toilets (Martin Keene/PA)
Signage for toilets (Martin Keene/PA)

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Randerson said: “As it stands, the Bill is of course sensible, but it is a paltry little measure and will certainly not bring the transformation needed.”

She added: “The local authorities that I am familiar with ceased building stand-alone public conveniences decades ago because problems of anti-social behaviour are so much greater in isolated blocks.

“Nowadays, new sets of conveniences are mainly incorporated in other public buildings, where issues of safety for users, maintenance and cleanliness are more easily dealt with.”

Fellow Liberal Democrat Baroness Pinnock welcomed the Bill but highlighting the closure of many public toilets argued it was “very much like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

Responding for the Government, Communities Minister Lord Greenhalgh said there were nearly 4,000 standalone public toilets in England and Wales and so the move represented “a very important relief for those properties”.

But rejecting the call to extend the relief to other properties, such as libraries and community centres, he said: “In effect, this would mean that the local authority-owned buildings that contained a non-fee-paying public lavatory would be exempted from paying rates.”

He added: “The Government’s policy aim… is clear in that it provides a targeted relief to support the provision of public lavatories in specific circumstances.

“In particular, we want to support facilities that exist where there are unlikely to be any other publicly available toilets, such as those along our coastline or in towns, where removing the additional costs of business rates could make a significant difference to the ability of councils or others to keep the facilities open.”

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