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Going to washroom more “carefree”

We are no stranger to the long queues in female toilets in public places. The problem is particularly serious during intermission at theatres or cultural performances. Sometimes men have to endure the long wait too when their other halves go to washrooms, and I can understand how they feel.

Currently the washroom waiting time for women is generally longer than that for men because of the physiological differences between men and women, and also the ratio of male-to-female sanitary fitments. In view of this, we commissioned a consultant to carry out on-site survey on the actual number of sanitary fitments provided in public places, including shopping arcades and department stores, cinemas and places of public entertainment, and conduct interviews to collect information such as queuing time and the level of user satisfaction. Taking into account the recommendations of the consultant, relevant overseas standards, projected change in the gender ratio of the local population as well as stakeholders' views, we have developed the new standards for the provision of sanitary fitments, of which the relevant regulations were tabled at the Legislative Council earlier. I am glad the legislation for the new standards was completed last week, and it will come into effect on December 14.

Under the amended standards for the provision of sanitary fitments, the ratio for assessing the number of males to that of females in public places will be revised from 1:1 to 1:1.5. Specifically, the number of water closet fitments to be provided for females in shopping arcades and department stores, cinemas, and places of public entertainment will be increased on average by about 75 per cent, 160 per cent and 185 per cent respectively. Taking into account the water closet fitments and urinals for male, the ratio of male-to-female sanitary fitments under the new standards will be 1:1.6 in general. This new ratio will be comparable with that of Singapore; and higher than that of the United Kingdom and the United States, which is 1:1.3. I believe the revised standards are in line with our circumstances and needs, and can alleviate the current shortage of female sanitary fitments in public places in Hong Kong.

After the new standards have taken effect, any new building works, including alteration or addition works, must provide sanitary fitments in accordance with the new standards. However, we understand that some of the existing premises, due to physical constraints, will face difficulties in compliance with the new standards. The Buildings Department (BD) will adopt a pragmatic approach to scrutinise each application for alteration and additional works. In restaurants and cinemas, for example, the new standards will only be applicable where there is a change in use of the premises or an extension that constitutes substantial alterations. I think this arrangement can balance public demands for increasing the number of toilets and the industry’s considerations and limitations in actual operation. The BD will issue a circular to the industry to provide guidance on the application of the new regulations after the Amendment Regulation has come into effect.

I understand that we have kept ladies waiting for a long time for this amendment regulation. We will monitor the situation closely after the new standards have taken effect and will review them in a timely manner in accordance with the actual situation, and to consider the need to further improve the relevant standards so that we can all go to the washrooms more “carefree”.

6 December, 2015