Budget cuts mean councils are under pressure to save every penny, and in South Tyneside that means fewer places to spend one.
The Borough is one of many councils across the UK that has been closing public toilets. Newly-released figures show that across the area seven loos have closed since 2000.
Data obtained by the British Toilet Association (BTA) through a Freedom of Information request shows that there are nine council operated toilets, down from 16 two decades ago.
Across the UK, at least 1,541 of these conveniences were closed over the period – a drop of 39%. The figure could be even bigger as many local authorities did not reply to the query.
Local authorities can come to an agreement with private businesses to open their amenities for the public in exchange for a payment or a tax credit.
The BTA has started a campaign called Use Our Loos to encourage businesses to open their toilets to non-customers and make it visible by having a sticker on display.
The director of the organisation, Raymond Martin, said: “We know that councils are under immense pressure with their budgets and despite having no legal obligation to maintain these public facilities, they have continued to try to reverse the rate of decline.
“They are constantly looking at alternative ideas, such as individual community toilet schemes, to provide reasonable provision for their communities.
“Use Our Loos is a community-oriented solution not about opening more toilets but making more toilets that already exist accessible to the public.”
In South Tyneside there is one public convenience for every 16,617 residents, compared to one for 10,930 people in the UK.
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “We are committed to providing clean, safe and free public toilet facilities which are maintained to a high standard for both our residents and visitors.
“We have invested heavily in the past five years in relocating, upgrading and providing new facilities.
“Last year, a new toilet block was opened in Littlehaven car park, comprising male and female toilets, a 24-7 disabled toilet and a baby changing room.
“This new facility built on the significant investment that had already gone into regenerating the coastline.
“Toilets at the seafront fairground have also just undergone a refurbishment.
“The toilets at the former Ghandi’s Temple were relocated to an enhanced setting at the former Tourist Information centre at the Amphitheatre.
“Toilets in Hebburn were demolished to allow for the construction of Hebburn Central, which has toilets which are open to the public and free to use.”
A spokesperson for the Local Government Association said: “Councils are doing everything they can to keep public toilets open and ensure there is provision for people with particular needs.
“With substantial reductions to their budgets, councils have had to make tough choices about public facilities but are finding innovative ways of tackling this issue.”
Charities fighting for elderly people’s rights have denounced the impact of the lack of free toilets.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director for Age UK, said: “A lack of public toilets affects everyone but for many older people knowing there’s a decent public convenience freely available for all enables them to get out and about with confidence, without fear of being caught short or drawing attention to themselves.
“We know that some older people with health conditions choose to stay indoors rather than taking a chance on being able to find a toilet if they need one, so public toilets really do make a big difference to their quality of life.”