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Thursday, 17 January 2013


A reader writes this extraordinary account of the Rotten Borough's attempts to get into manufacturing. Because some of our councillors have an unhealthy interest in public loo's this one got them all excited. It seems to have cost us all a packet. It shows p*****g away our money is not a new thing!

Dear Dame,
If we are talking spectacular wastes of taxpayer's money a la Exhibition Road, the 'Kensington Autoloo' debacle would take some beating.
Probably in the mid 1980's, just after the French autoloo was becoming to be popular with local authorities keen on shutting their public lavatories, K&C announced it was developing its own BRITISH autoloo, which it would sell to all the other British local authorities so they didn't have to buy the Froggie trash. I never found out who was actually responsible for this initiative, it may have been an egocentric Director of Engineering rather than a politician.
The mechanics were designed and a prototype (maybe two) were made at huge cost, and then a competition was held in the Royal College of Art Industrial Design faculty to design an exterior suitable for a 'Royal Borough'. The winner was a kind of rectangular shed with a pitched roof clad entirely in black polished marble - you can imagine the cost.
One of the prototypes, so clad, was installed at South Kensington with due Mayoral ceremony - just south of the station, and then intensive marketing was attempted to sell them to other Local Authorities.
Unfortunately the designers had not taken into account that people do not behave as they are intended to.  The whole interior was a dimpled highly polished stainless steel rectangular tank and it detected if someone was in it by the whole stainless steel floor being counterbalanced in a stainless steel pit, so it went down when you stepped on it. There was a reasonably conventional toilet bowl cantilevered from the far wall. Unfortunately people (especially drunk ones) failed to piss in the bowl and pissed on the floor or wall, the urine accumulating in the under floor void and smelling appropriately. Moreover the gap between the floor and the wall was rather large, and 'things' found their way down it, jamming the mechanism. The mechanism may also have been unreliable.
In contrast the French autoloo had a monocoque GRP moulded interior, which wholly  tipped backwards and was completely scrubbed with water and detergent automatically after every use.
Needless to say I don't believe ANY were sold. Quite soon everything went quiet, and then unobtrusively the South Kensington one was stripped out and converted into a flower stall, in which incarnation it survived until quite recently until the South Kensington improvements. 

No more was ever said about 'The Kensington Autoloo'.
All this must have cost a PHENOMENAL amount of money. Was anyone disciplined? Was the District Auditor involved? Unfortunately there was not a Dame around at the time, only Harry James. I have often wondered what the true story was. Perhaps there are still Councillors around from that time who could tell us?

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