Cheltenham's MP, Alex Chalk, is leading the campaign for more accessible toilet facilities in the town. He has described the need to improve access to facilities as a 'moral imperative'.
Mr Chalk has taken his campaign to the very top, by raising the issue in Parliament. Questioning the Minister for Communities and Local Government, he highlighted both the moral need to make disabled toilets more accessible, as well as the business case, with better facilities encouraging more people to visit the town.
In his response the Minister heaped praised on Cheltenham, describing it as a 'fantastic place', before going onto to echo Mr Chalk's comments regarding the business case for better disabled facilities. He reaffirmed the Government's commitment to tackling this issue, outlining its long term involvement with the Changing Places Charter Group, which aims to improve the provision of facilities for those people with disabilities.
Speaking following his intervention, Mr Chalk said ''I'm delighted that the Government is taking this issue seriously. I am determined to ensure Cheltenham is a welcoming place for all visitors, including those who are disabled.''
You can read the full exchange below:
Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham
Does the Minister agree that proper access to toilets for disabled people is not just a moral imperative, for the reasons we have heard? It also makes sense because it encourages more people to come into town centres, such as Cheltenham. That, in turn, is good for business.
Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)
I agree. Cheltenham is a fantastic place; if disabled adults and people with disabled children are able to visit places across the country such as Cheltenham and Chesterfield, we will have a better society and more prosperous town centres.
Our success has been driven by local campaigners, with the broader support and backing of national organisations. Campaigners, including the constituents of the hon. Member for Chesterfield, who made this debate possible, deserve great credit for their dedication and success in ensuring that the number of Changing Places toilets continues to rise. I would like to take the opportunity to recognise the great work that those campaigners have undertaken in their local communities.
Alongside the work of campaigning groups, the Government have been active in considering what we can do to help. Before I come to the issue of Changing Places toilets and building regulations, I will explain what has already been done to support and increase the number of Changing Places toilets. For some years, the Department has hosted the Changing Places Charter Group, which brings together campaigning and business interests. It meets periodically to discuss how voluntary provision of Changing Places facilities can be improved, and it has had some notable successes. It has helped to identify problems that need to be resolved to improve provision, and it has worked to address those issues over time.
The group found that, although building more Changing Places facilities is important, it is only one aspect to be considered in ensuring that Changing Places toilets genuinely improve choice for disabled people and their carers. Changing Places toilets need to be located in the right place, and they need to be easy to find and access. This is a strategic planning issue that requires careful consideration to make the facilities effective. Building a Changing Places toilet in the wrong location is a missed opportunity. Changing Places toilets need to be well maintained, and building owners must ensure they remain open for use. There is no point in forcing a developer to build a Changing Places toilet if it is then locked or used for another purpose. The key is to ensure that building owners are willing hosts who recognise and embrace the importance of Changing Places toilets, and proactively support and promote their use.