For the last few days, Twitter has been alive with people across the world forwarding links to this story on the local BBC site.
Apparently some prankster with a colour printer and a laminating machine has been making extremely official looking signs telling Nottingham’s revellers that they are allowed to urinate in certain spots after nightfall. A further letter with the official council logo on it explains that the spots will be cleaned by the Council in the early hours of the morning.
This is of course not true. It is not permitted to urinate in public anywhere in the city, and although a small army of people clean the city centre in the early hours of every morning, there is no group tasked with hosing urine off walls in back alleys.
Nonetheless, there are no public toilets in the city centre at night. During the day, there is a brand new, award winning toilet including an extra wide “changing places” toilet for the disabled. Unfortunately this is down a side street that whilst it is in the very centre of town, is a little difficult to find. My council colleague Cllr Marshall has been campaigning for ages for better signs pointing it out, as the current ones are a master of design, in that they look quite good, but fail to do the job of pointing things out, because they are quite small.
Councils are in a bit of a bind about public toilets. They are expensive to clean and maintain. Mindless vandals damage them. And even the busiest toilets in public places can find themselves being misused by gentleman seeking a different sort of relief, unless you fork out even more for an attendant. Over the last ten years, Nottingham has been closing the grottiest underground lavs, including the ones in Market Square, Theatre Square, Trinity Square, the Maid Marion Way underpass.
And yet there are a lot of people who come to Nottingham at night specifically to drink, whose late night needs are not catered for. If you ask the Council what people who are caught short are supposed to do, the official response comes back that people should go before they leave the establishments in which they have been drinking. This leads to a rather odd thought that bouncers should be redeployed to asking patrons “have you been?” on their way out.
Perhaps a better solution would be to adopt a version of Kingston’s Community Toilets scheme – local pubs and caffs are paid a small amount annually to make their toilets available to the public as well as patrons. The cost to the council is significantly lower than staffing their own toilets, and because they are in active premises they are less likely to be abused by the public.