BUDGET cuts mean councils are under pressure to save every penny, and in Sedgemoor that means fewer places to spend one.

The district has lost two thirds of its public toilets since 2000, according to newly-released figures, with 19 loos closing across the area, including at sites such as Bridgwater Bus Station, which saw the public loos close in 2011.

Data obtained by the British Toilet Association through a Freedom of Information request shows there are 10 council-operated toilets, down from 29 two decades ago.

However, Sedgemoor District Council says the figure is closer to seven or eight being lost, as many have been transfered back to the control of town or parish councils and therefore no longer count in their figures. 

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 British Toilet Association 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 Sedgemoor there is one public convenience for every 12,218 residents, compared to one for 10,930 people in the UK.

A Sedgemoor District Council spokesperson said: "The provision of public conveniences is not a statutory duty. However, over the years many were built in towns and villages across Sedgemoor.

"They were generally built by the parish or town council, who looked after them in terms of cleaning and maintenance. 

"In 1974, under Local Government reorganisation, the responsibility for these facilities mostly passed to Sedgemoor.

"Back in 2009, partly due to funding pressure, SDC undertook a programme of transferring back to towns and parishes the ownership of the facilities within their town or parish; thus keeping open facilities if the local town or parish felt they were valued and used. 

"Some facilities unfortunately became targets for anti-social behaviour and vandalism, so were closed as a last resort.

"Additionally, some blocks have been within redevelopment sites, so were closed to make way for new houses or shops.

"Sedgemoor District Council agreed to part fund the cost of toilets within tourist areas.

"In 2012, SDC approached businesses in Burnham-on-Sea to run a ‘community toilet scheme’, where by SDC paid a fee for businesses to welcome people into pubs or hotels to use their facilities without being a customer.

"This scheme was successful, but has ceased due to change in ownership of the hotels.

"SDC would be more than happy to work to promote the British Toilet Association to promote their scheme."

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."

Sedgemoor District Council has been approached for comment.