Last dance? Councillors back tougher regime for strip clubs
Licensing panels will 'presume' renewal applications will not be approved
04 November, 2019 — By Richard Osley
Councillors vote in favour of a change in policy
LAP-DANCING clubs are facing a shock after councillors lined up a new policy which will “presume” that venues no longer have their licences renewed when they expire.
The position could put Camden on a major collision course with some of the adult entertainment industry’s biggest operators, including Spearmint Rhino, Secrets and Sophisticats – who all have clubs in the borough.
Licensing officials mapped out new policy amendments on Tuesday evening as the council sets up a new framework over how to deal with strip venues.
Camden already has a block on any new venue opening up on the basis that no area in the borough is considered suitable, but seven clubs which were operating before that crackdown was introduced have been allowed to stay open and renew their licences annually.
To the frustration of women’s right groups who want all venues closed down, the council’s policy has been that a “presumption” licences would be renewed is taken into each hearing.
Now, if approved by lawyers and Camden’s cabinet, this will be reversed with a presumption that licences cannot be renewed.
The shift could lead to long-standing adult entertainment venues having to launch legalc appeals in a bid to stay open.
The surprise amendment was brought forward by Labour councillor Thomas Gardiner and had overall support in a split vote across the committee. Members also passed a policy change which would ban booths for private dances.
For several months, the Women’s Equality Party and the Not Buying It campaign group have been urging Camden to bring about the closure of the seven venues.
The Town Hall received a raft of responses to a consultation survey on its licensing policy which called for a ban on lap-dancing in Camden.
“As a mother of two daughters, I don’t want to see stripping and prostitution as a viable career opportunity,” said one response, anonymised by the council.
“I would ask the council to imagine what it must be like for your daughter to come home one day to tell their family that they’ve decided to work as a stripper.”
Another said: “I am really disturbed by these clubs. The result is undermining women’s equality and the goal is to make money by
satisfying men buying women’s bodies for their satisfaction.”
In response to these concerns, when appearing at licensing review hearings, venues often produce testimonies of dancers who say they are proud of their work and happy in the industry.
Labour councillor Leo Cassarani said: “The fact is that we have gone out to consultation and the public has actively spoken with one voice. When you look, 95 per cent plus responded to say: You already have a zero policy, remove the exemption for renewals. I think it would be baffling if we didn’t listen to them.”
He cited the City of London as an authority which had no adult entertainment venues.
Labour councillor Oliver Lewis, a lawyer, also supported the switch.
He said: “We have to be cautious when using language – that rebuttable presumption is not the same as a ban. The presumption is a starting point but it can be rebutted. So any organisation can attend and make the case for continued licence.”
Lib Dem councillor Tom Simon said he opposed a change, adding: “I think if you switch it around, I just think it’s very unlikely that any renewal applications will succeed.
“I just don’t think that’s a sensible approach. While I don’t like strip clubs, particularly, I think it would be a hasty move to make.”
He added: that the problem with “banning things” was that it would drive them underground outside of any council control.
The switch, Cllr Simon warned, would undermine regulated attempts to provide support for performers trying to leave the industry.
The Not Buying It group is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Spearmint Rhino over secret filming of performers, with the council investigating the circumstances.
Camden’s licensing director Jamie Akinola said: “Our view is that the support group that we will be setting up with performers will also provide us with an opportunity to address specific issues on a case by case basis with individual performers and individual practices.”
He said he would seek to provide the committee and cabinet councillors with “detailed legal advice” over whether the change in approach was lawful.
Ban the booths?
CAMDEN’S licensing committee has asked for a new policy banning booths of any description for punters to watch private lap-dancers.
Pat Callaghan led the calls for change as Tuesday’s meeting heard that some clubs were allowed the shield of a one-metre-high partition.
She said: “In a dark room, having a booth with three sides one metre high… quite a lot can go on there. If you put a metre high, a lot can go on under a metre high. Why do we allow it?”
Camden’s licensing director Jamie Akinola said that the rules were trying to “strike a balance”.
He added: “I think a significant part of the business models that the licence premises operate is of course the opportunity to have what’s often termed as private answer or private display.”