Jonathan Schofield on a tiny boost for city visitors, but we used to be much better
What's this? We are getting public toilets open 24 hours a day. It's like the 21st century is finally happening in Manchester city centre.
We wrote a shouty article in September, after a packed Pride weekend, about the only Council public toilets being closed on Sundays and Bank Holiday Weekends. This seemed to underline a lack of professionalism with regard to city visitors and locals.
We're not where we were 100 years ago, when there were more than three hundred public toilets around the city
Somebody must be listening because the Lloyd Street toilets will be now open 24 hours a day - aside from during cleaning.
We asked the Council about this. Councillor Nigel Murphy, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, said: “We are pleased to confirm that the public toilets in Lloyd Street are now in operation 24 hours a day. They are a valued amenity for the public and this development will ensure we are able to better serve the people who live, work and shop in the city centre."
Confidential is going to claim all the credit because we were the ones who wrote that initial shouty article. It might be nothing to do with us, but still, blow your own trumpet eh?
Of course, there is a slight catch. The statement goes on to read;
'Between the hours of 19.30 and 07.30 the toilets in Lloyd Street will be monitored by security staff. If a member of the public needs to use them within these hours, there is an intercom that can be used to call a member of staff to open the facilities. Based on a risk assessment carried out by the security provider, a maximum of two people will be allowed in the toilets at any given time. There will be no limit during daytime hours.'
Personally I'm not in the habit of going to the loo in twos. I feel I can manage on my own. Yet, on balance, the caveat seems reasonable as a way of preventing anti-social behaviour.
Pressing an intercom to ask to go to the toilet is unusual too, but it cannot be denied that this 24 hour opening is a tiny step in the right direction.
But just a tiny step. If we really want this city to flourish as a magnet for residents and workers and for tourists - whether local, regional, national or international - then we need to get started on all the aspects of attention to detail: way-finding, litter-picking, green space maintenance and a tourist information centre that is open on Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays.
It's a bit of a shame too that, as the toilets open 24 hours, Albert Square is closing down for five years along with Manchester Town Hall for restoration and refurbishment. So there will be no large events taking place around the corner.
A tiny step forward then, but we're not where we were 100 years ago when there were more than three hundred public toilets around the city of Manchester.
The 24 hour Lloyd Street opening holds a mirror up the provision of publicly owned amenities. It is truly shocking how in some respects we are so poorly off compared to what was offered citizens a century ago. This is not just in Manchester but across the country.
I was in Queen's Park in Harpurhey on Wednesday and this park, one of the first municipal parks in the Kingdom from 1846, is a shit-heap. It makes me seethe to see how there were overgrown flower beds, broken benches and trellises, scorch marks on the grass, fly-tipping too. No public toilets, of course. All the paths have been crudely paved in tarmac. There's a burnt out motorbike that's clearly been there for days if not weeks, right next to a principal path. We all know the equation. if public spaces are not maintained, if they look neglected by the civic authority then they encourage anti-social behaviour
Queen's Park, along with other Manchester parks, used to be famous for their beauty, care and upkeep, now it’s a disgrace to the city. I've written this before, but I find it disturbing and ironic that so many public spaces created by Victorian philanthropy to provide beauty and nature to overworked impoverished working class communities are now utterly broken. They may as well have signs up saying: 'This is a public park, but I wouldn't bother if I were you. Go away. It's probably dangerous.'
Let's not blame 10 years of austerity for the state of the parks. Queen's Park has been awful for more than a generation.
Some parks have got better in recent years, Alexandra Park in Moss Side for instance. But these are islands of success in oceans of continuing failure.
Health and education soaks up all the spare cash maybe. The National Health Service requires ever more and more money. It is a bottomless pit. We need the best healthcare we can afford admittedly. And education. Across from Queen's Park is Manchester Communication Academy, a secondary school. It looks new and shiny but it merely adds to the puzzle of why, if we can deliver that, we can't make our public green spaces beautiful. Other European countries seem to do a better job. Much more is spent per capita on health care in France and Germany yet I have yet to find a park in those countries as abandoned as Queen's Park, Manchester.
Maybe we need to think about diverting money to other aspects of public life. Or finding some more. Let's restore our parks, put back the cafes, the drinking fountains, the toilets, deliver a better environment as well as posher schools. Aren't we all about 'well-being' these days?
In areas such as Harpurhey, which have terrible health indices, a beautiful park locals can be proud of and use with a happy heart would have a morale boosting affect. Some form of natural beauty on the doorstep should be a human right.
This article has come a long way from the 24 hour opening of a public toilets in Lloyd Street. I get that. I make no apologies. Councillor Murphy says those toilets are a 'valued amenity'. They are.
But what happened to all those other valued amenities that as this country apparently got wealthier, closed, or were run down, to make our public lives collectively poorer?
We are good, as a city and a country, in delivering grand capital projects. These have been a hallmark of the nation since the millennium. They add to prestige.
Manchester's reputation may well rise culturally when the £130m Factory opens in 2021. That money is public money. It would be good though if there were another £130m of public money out there to lift our public amenity across the city with regard to other aspects of a civic life, especially in the inner suburbs. There’s something so wrong about this state of affairs, about that burnt out motorbike just lying there, it screams out for a new system, a new way forward.