Good News About Toilets


This is a progress report on the building of a new unisex toilet in GunnersburyPark.

In response to the widespread public criticism of toilet provision at Gunnersbury, the London Borough of Ealing allocated from its own resources £125,000 to replace the ruined block between the end of the Large Mansion and the small children’s playground next to the Café. Bridget Gregory from LBE is the project director.

On the surface, it looks to be quite a straightforward task, but then nothing at Gunnersbury turns out to be simple. A series of four test pits had to be dug by archaeologists to discover if the new building would do damage to the footings of significant earlier buildings – in particular, a 19th century building called “The Dairy” which had fallen into decay and was finally demolished around 1958. In one pit they found some 19th century foundations, but It turned out that these would not be an obstacle to the project.

Then an architect had to prepare designs. Peter Reid, of P2 Designs, was commissioned to do the work. Not an easy task, because park toilets and the way they are used or misused is a subject on which everyone has strong opinions but without a great deal of research to back them up. The new toilets in BatterseaPark are an example one of the major new ideas, which is that these buildings are safer to use and more protected from vandalism if they are set in open areas, in full view, rather than tucked away behind walls and bushes.

Then there is a major Police initiative “Secured by Design” – an advisory and standards operation whose input is hard to discount. At one point in the project it looked as though Gunnersbury could either have a good looking toilet block or a secure and fortified one, and Peter Reid has managed to reconcile these pressures in his final proposals.

Then there is the question of how they will be operated – cleaned, maintained, serviced and repaired. Should we have to pay to use them? And what changes will they require to the area around them? There are huge rubbish bins nearby, some broken fencing and an overgrown border. Could the railings be opened up to form a path from the café to the toilets?

Then there are the planning issues – it is new building in a conservation area and English Heritage’s view of the quality of the proposals had to be considered. And L B Hounslow’s planning process, which was finally completed in August.

The final design provides four cubicles, one fitted out for disabled use. Three will open onto a pathway through the building and one directly outwards. The equipment will be strong and vandal-proof (well, vandal-resistant perhaps, because with enough enthusiasm and equipment vandals can destroy almost anything.) And they will be free to use. The walls will be white stucco rendered blockwork and stone-filled gabions, with a butterfly roof which “flies” above them. Building should start soon.

 The material for this article comes from the presentation given by Peter Reid, the architect, to the Regeneration Board in May, and the planning applications P/2009/1058 andP/2009/1090 posted on the Hounslow Planning Department web site.

 James Wisdom, September 2009