Toilet Trouble - Not such a public convenience

peeing in public

From the Falmouth Packet 27/06/13:

Caught short visitors to Helston are using the outside wall of shut public toilets to relieve themselves on.

Well, I hate to say it, but I can’t think of a more appropriate wall to pee on.

This was news from Councillor Gillian Geer, a shop owner in the town who told her fellow members that people often complained to her about the situation.

“As a council and as a town we can’t have that. It turns out they are really well used – or at least should be really well used. At the moment people are using the area outside for whatever they should be doing inside,” she said.

“If we want a town people are proud of we really do not need people peeing behind a wall. Shopkeepers are witnessing it in that area.”

Goodness no! Have you seen some of the stains left by revellers in any town or city throughout the UK after a typical Friday or Saturday night out? And the last thing a full-bladdered local or visitor wants is a charge of outraging public decency should they be forced into a not-so-private ‘splash and dash’.

Section 87 of the Public Health Act 1936 gives local authorities the power to provide public toilets, but, crucially, imposes no obligation to do so. As a result, the provision of public loos tends to be something of a postcode lottery (or a local authority one at any rate).

Still, the fact remains that operating a public toilet is far from cheap with the initial construction charges representing just a fraction of the overall cost. Local authorities, invariably plagued by short termism when it comes to managing their budgets, are frequently tempted by ensuring the construction of new public toilets by way of section 106 agreements (under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990). That might ensure toilets are built at a cost to developer in exchange for wider planning rights, but allows such developers to adopt a ‘hit and run’ approach by building the toilet and then leaving the authority or new land owner with the cost of maintaining it in the future. Such toilets are often shut as soon as the developer’s work is finished.

The broader question is what to do about providing sufficient public toilets at a manageable cost. Time for a pubic (ahem) public debate, surely?

Until a solution is found, a lot of Helston folk are going to have to continue with their pained expressions and crossed legs, I fear.

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