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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 June, 2004, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
South: Private affluence; public squalor
Katie Inman
Politics Show South

Half a century ago the economist JK Galbraith coined the phrase "private affluence and public squalor".

Galbraith noticed that privately owned resources were generally clean and well maintained while public spaces were often dirty, overcrowded, and unsafe.

Victorian values

Public toilet sign
Civic pride replaced by public squalor?

But things were not always that way.

The Victorians prided themselves on their civic amenities.

They built grand public buildings and spaces that helped to create a sense of pride in their towns.

But civic pride now seems to have been replaced with civic squalor. Some of Britain's streets are run-down and neglected, filled with litter, chewing gum and graffiti.

Last year over 30m tonnes of waste was collected from our streets.

According to ENCAMS the group who run the "Keep Britain Tidy Campaign" we are dropping more litter than ever before.

Spending a penny

It is not just our public spaces that have declined. Some authorities are now less keen to provide us with civic amenities.

The decline of the public toilet is just one example of this.

Because local authorities do not have a statutory obligation to provide public toilets, in order to cut costs, over half of the public toilets in English cities have closed since 1997.

These cost cutting initiatives are leaving many people caught short.

Public lavatory
General public reluctant to use public loos

According to the British Toilet Association many of the public toilets that have remained open are not maintained to a high enough standard, making the public even more reluctant to use them.

Across the region many villages, towns and cities have seen their public toilets close.

When Shepway Council decided to close its 26 public toilets the local residents collected a petition with over 10,000 signatures.

The strength of feeling was such that the council have temporarily reopened the toilets.

In Horsham the council closed all of their Automated Public Conveniences to prevent a 4% increase in the council tax bill.

When public toilets are closed people are forced to find other less hygienic alternatives making our civic spaces a less pleasant place to be.

Do we still care?

Our concern for private affluence has not totally overridden our desires for our civic spaces.

In a survey by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), 85% of respondents said that they believed that the quality of their public spaces impacted on their quality of life, and that the quality of the built environment directly impacted on the way they felt.

Return of the citizen

In their 1997 election manifesto the Labour party said that they wanted to recreate "the sense of community, identity and civic pride that should define our country".

The Conservatives believe "people should feel that they have a sense of ownership over the local environment and quality of life in their neighbourhood".

The Liberal Democrats want to revive our cities "not only for economic benefit but also out of civic pride".

All the parties pay lip service to the issue, but which of them is prepared to pay hard cash?

According to the Government, active citizenship, strengthening communities and partnerships in meeting public needs are the essential ingredient to civil renewal.

But is it too late? Can our civic squalor really be replaced with a Victorian sense of civic pride?

Tell us what you think

You can have your say by contacting us using the form below.

Have your say

  • Do you feel any civic pride about where you live?
  • Is civic squalor rife in your area?
  • Should we be spending more in our civic spaces?
  • Have you been caught short because of council cut backs?

Let us know what you think. That is Politics Show Sunday 20 June at Midday.

Politics Show

Watch Politics Show, with presenter Peter Henley, on BBC One on Sundays at Noon.



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