IT’S billed as one of the UK’s leading galleries for modern and contemporary art and craft.

But now a group of council tax payers claim more people visit Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (Mima) to use the loo than admire its artistic treasures.

The findings were revealed by members of the group who took it in turns to sit in the cafe of the £18m Erick van Egeratt-designed building for a week to monitor its usage.

They totted up 317 people visiting the free council-run gallery while 357 went to spend a penny – also for free.

Middlesbrough Council’s figures for the same week – obtained under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, had much higher overall numbers but included 212 people visiting on a Monday – when Mima is closed.

Another FOI request by the group reveals the council, which runs Mima, does not differentiate between visitors using the art gallery, cafe, toilet or just cutting through from the car park.

“This must mean we have the most expensive public urinal in the world,” said David Saha, one of six Middlesbrough council tax payers who carried out the survey.

“This is costing us a fortune.

They’ve (Middlesbrough Council) closed the Captain Cook Museum half the year, a place that actually has something to do with our town.

“But what really gets me going is when they cut back on libraries, community centres and now lollipop ladies to save just £1,100 a week. We reckon we’re funding each visit to the actual art gallery to the tune of £90.”

Overall, the campaigners said 1,103 people visited Mima in a single week, most just using the cafe. Middlesbrough Council put the figure at 1,666.

But the council’s figures are based on an electric door, which opens even if people walk past the entrance but do not go inside.

The council says 719,852 people have entered Mima since it opened in 2007, and the authority has also reduced opening hours and axed a £25,000-a-year job to save money.

Reports on the amount contributed by Middlesbrough tax-payers each year vary but it has been reported at £1m, although the campaigners claim it is about £1.5m.

A council spokesman said: “Our approach to counting visitors is approved by both the Arts Council and our external auditor, and we’ve been up front about it from the outset.”

The Arts Council has increased its annual contribution to Mima to £500,000.

Sitting on a fortune...

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• Said to be worth £47,500, the Isis toilet, pictured, is designed by Jamal Wright and is covered in Swarovski crystals.