If only spending a penny were as cheap as the phrase suggests, it might not have led to a recent petition and campaign.
But the cost led Brighton and Hove City Council to close some public toilets earlier this year as part of its budget cuts.
Those closed were near others which remained open but not everyone was impressed.
The campaigning group Save Hove raised a petition and has lobbied councillors as they prepare to debate the budget for the next financial year.
Save Hove is better known for its interest in controversial planning applications. But its call for more toilets rather than fewer has attracted some attention.
Among other things, its petition noted: “The absence of public toilet facilities may be increasing the incidence of public fouling of footpaths and front entrances to homes and shops, especially in areas servicing the night-time economy.
“The lack of public toilets can prevent people taking children, the disabled and elderly for outings to areas (like parts of the seafront) where there are no public toilet facilities.
“And many fail to drink enough fluids when going out for fear of needing a non-existent public lavatory. In summer especially, this can result in dangerous levels of dehydration.
“Pregnant women and the incontinent need easy access to public toilets if they are to be free to access leisure and shopping facilities in peace.
“The police on the beat, workmen, street cleaners, etc, and carers making their rounds of calls also need public toilet access as they walk about.”
Instead of more and better toilets, another loss could be looming. There are concerns that the revamp of Hove Town Hall – to accommodate Sussex Police after the closure of the police station in Holland Road – may come at the expense of the town hall toilets.
The justification given was that there are toilets in the Norton Road car park. But they went in the last round of closures.
The stench in the car park stairwell is evidence that not everyone has taken the closure in good grace or found that the town hall was open when they have needed to go.
Save Hove’s petition also said: “Going to the shops, the beach or the parks should not involve this distress.
“The disabled in wheelchairs need street-level, flat-access public toilets and these are few and far between and this is unacceptable.
“The economic prosperity of a shopping area can only be enhanced when public toilets are available that mean people can spend longer in that area without having to rush away to find a loo.
“The presence of attendants is a community safety issue that also means more hygienic public toilets with constant provision of soap and toilet paper.
“Their presence also ensures users have a safe environment free from drug taking and other anti-social activities.
“Easy public access to hand-washing facilities in public toilets helps control infection and helps reduce transmission of virus and bacterial sources of contagious infection within the public realm.
“People cannot feasibly be encouraged to practice frequent hand washing without easily available facilities.”
Save Hove has made the “joined up government” case for more toilets. It has done so as councils up and down the country are being asked to do more with less money – like almost every organisation in the public sector.
In fact, councils are proving far better at making efficiency savings than the government departments in Whitehall that are demanding the savings.
It comes down to priorities. And of course whether those wanting public toilets are prepared to shout loudly enough in sufficient numbers.
There is a case too for looking at licensing conditions – even if a law change at national level is required – to require at least some of our many food and drink venues to open their doors.
Our best public toilets in Brighton and Hove have won awards. It would be good to see more of them.
As somewhere that relies economically on large numbers of visitors, it’s hard not to share the hope of those wanting somewhere to go in the place to be.
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