In a blow for campaigners and activists who want more gender-neutral facilities, future public buildings will have to have separate “ladies” and “gents” lavatories.
The Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick is to amend building regulations and planning guidance to ensure that separate “ladies” and “gents” facilities are installed in new buildings, or those being developed. To ensure the privacy of the occupants is “fully respected” buildings that already have unisex lavatories face having to install partitions.
Mr Jenrick’s department launched a review last November to “ensure better provision of toilets for women and men”, following an outcry over the way that companies and authorities had ripped out male and female lavatories and replaced them with gender-neutral ones.
Evidence has shown that women face increasing difficulties accessing single-sex lavatories because many have been converted into “gender neutral” ones.
A source close to Mr Jenrick said: “It’s a necessity for women to have access to their own provision of toilets, but too often separate sex toilets are being removed by stealth – causing great distress. We’ve listened to the concerns raised by women and the elderly about their security, dignity and safety and are going to maintain and improve safeguards by updating regulations in order to ensure that there is always the necessary provision of separate toilets for everyone in the community. These changes will help to maintain safeguards that protect women and the proper provision of separate toilets, which has long been a regulatory requirement, will be retained and improved. We recognise there needs to be a public service provision for everyone in our community, and want to help to deliver on that objective.”
According to a source, Mr Jenrick’s “technical review” looked at the ratio of female lavatories needed against those for men given “the obvious need for women to always use cubicles”, and an insider said the Government’s response will “address misconceptions that removing sex-specific toilets are a requirement of equality legislation. The proposals will also bring building rules in line with existing statutory requirements for mixed sex toilet provision in schools.”
In 2019, The Old Vic Theatre in central London was criticised when it converted all of its male and female lavatories to gender-neutral toilets. One user complained after the refurbishment: “Patrons are, in theory, free to self-select from blocks labelled stalls-only and blocks containing urinals. The problem is obvious: women cannot use urinals.”
As well as publicly funded buildings such as hospitals, the changes apply to offices, shops and entertainment venues, and apply to new buildings or existing buildings undergoing major refurbishment when building regulation consent is required for the works. Departmental sources said that, under the changes, the buildings will have to provide separate lavatories for women “given the particular health needs of women, and the fact that men’s urinals can serve more customers at a quicker pace”. Buildings that only have “unisex provision” will have to offer men and women entirely self-contained cubicles, with basins inside, to protect the privacy of occupants.