By JAMES TOZER
Last updated at 10:48 AM on 15th July 2010
Different: A squat toilet, also known as a Nile Pan, like the ones which are being installed at the shopping centre
For centuries, the great British loo has been a matter of envy to the rest of the world.
Thanks to the efforts of pioneers like the legendary Thomas Crapper, we have long since led the world in comfort and hygiene.
Now, however, that could be about to change.
For most of us, the squat toilet is nothing more than a staple of horror stories about old-fashioned French service stations or the exploits of adventurous backpackers in far-flung parts of India.
But this basic form of plumbing, also known as a Turkish toilet or Nile pan, could be coming to a shopping centre near you - and all in the name of cultural sensitivity.
From next week, shoppers in Rochdale who push open the cubicle door expecting the reassuring sight of a modern, clean lavatory could instead be faced with little more than a hole in the ground.
Bosses of the Greater Manchester town's Exchange mall have installed two as part of an upgrade costing several thousand pounds after attending a cultural awareness course run by a local Muslim community activist.
A familiar sight in parts of the Middle East, and still sometimes seen in France and Italy, the toilets require users to squat above them, rather than sitting.
With one in ten of Rochdale's population of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, centre managers say they have been told some members of the local Asian community prefer them for cultural reasons.
Aware: Staff at the Rochdale Exchange were sent on a course and opted to have the squat toilets installed
The town hit the headlines during this year's General Election campaign when pensioner Gillian Duffy was dismissed by Gordon Brown as a 'bigoted woman' when she voiced concern about immigration.
News of the introduction of squat toilets was met by disbelief, however.
'This strikes me as a classic case of excessive pandering to a politically correct minority,' said Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley.
'We in Britain are rightly proud of our toilets, and the onus is on people who come to this country to appreciate them for what they are.
'It's absolutely ludicrous - Thomas Crapper would be turning in his grave!'
The Exchange shopping centre is in the process of refurbishing its ladies' and gents' toilets, and the changes were made after managers went on a cultural training course.
Proud Rochdalian: Ghulam Rasul Shahzad runs courses on cultural understanding and community cohesion
It was hosted by Ghulam Rasul Shahzad, a retired Rochdale Council training officer who runs courses for the groups including the police on cultural understanding and community cohesion.
A former Labour council candidate, Mr Shahzad received the OBE from the Queen last month for his services to the community and social housing.
He was last year given a Community Crimefighter Award by the then Prime Minister, Mr Brown.
Mr Shahzad took shopping centre manager Lorenzo O'Reilly and his team on a tour around Rochdale's Central Mosque, including a look at its toilets, as part of the course.
'The management at the centre were very committed to improving the service they offered to the community and were very responsive,' he said.
'We always work together to understand each other from both sides and find a balance.
'That is the beauty of Rochdale. That is why I am proud to be a Rochdalian.'
A spokeswoman for the centre said: 'We regularly receive cultural awareness training from Ghulam and when we were planning the toilets this was something that cropped up.'
As a result, when the facilities reopen next Monday, both the ladies' and gents' will have a cubicle containing a squat toilet.
Turkish or squat toilets are favoured over flush toilets in many parts of Asia as they don't require expensive modern plumbing systems.
Proponents of what some campaigners call the natural posture toilet claim there are health benefits to squatting, rather than sitting.
Canterbury Prison recently installed one for foreign inmates as part of a £17,000 upgrade.
But they are regarded as unhygienic and backward in many parts of the world - infamously, a controversial sculpture briefly displayed at EU offices in Brussels last year lampooning member states depicted Bulgaria as a squat toilet.
Mike Bone, of the British Toilet Association, warned the washing facilities associated with squat toilets could pose a hygiene hazard.
'We really don't see a need for them,' he said.
'Space for public toilets in places like shopping centres is already at a premium, and if this is meant to cater for Muslims we would point out that the vast majority use normal toilets in their own homes.'