New delays to lap-dancing club licensing reforms

Camden to ask other councils how they have been dealing with sexual entertainment venues

Friday, 3rd December 2021 — By Isabelle Stanley

camden council 5 Pancras Square Image 2021-02-24 at 14.37.51 (5)

Camden Council

SEXUAL entertainment venues are set to escape a tougher licensing regime in Camden after new delays to policy changes.

The Town Hall’s licensing committee on Thursday night decided to delay an amendment to the guidelines which would have created the presumption that lap-dancing clubs are not suitable in any location in the borough – unless operators can prove otherwise.

Councillors have been discussing this possible switch for more than two years. Camden has a rule that no venue can open but existing clubs – there are seven in the borough –have been allowed to apply for licence renewals each year.

A lengthy public consultation had found that around 95 per cent of residents who responded supported the closure of the clubs.

Critics claim that clubs are rife with sexual exploitation, while some respondents to the council’s survey said the venues objectified women and made them feel unsafe in the area.

A move towards amending the policy was started in 2019 but not discussed since. Labour councillor Leo Cassarani, a licensing committee member, told the New Journal: “It feels like officers sat on this and were trying to run down the clock. It now doesn’t seem like there’s going to be any progress before the election. They’ve been successful at seriously delaying any efforts.”

Explaining why no progress had been made for two years, the Town Hall cited advice from its legal team.

A report said: “The council would almost inevitably face a number of legal challenges, with the consequent significant cost and resource implications for the council.”

But Cllr Cassarani said: “We’re going to get sued by them no matter what we do. This has always happened, powerful venues use their power to try to stop the council from doing things that aren’t in their interest.”

He added: “Camden is one of the wealthiest local authorities in the country: we pride ourselves on being rebellious, we have some of the best officers in the country, and yet they’re trying to act like we’re impotent.”

Instead of enforcing the amendment, the council proposed to begin a fact-finding mission, saying it will speak to councils in Bristol, Blackpool and Sheffield about how they are tackling the issue.

Dr Sasha Rakoff, CEO of Not Buying It, which campaigns against the objectification of women, said: “There’s no point talking to Sheffield, they’re in the same place as Camden. We took them to court and they still haven’t changed the policy. Same for Blackpool and Bristol, they’re both running scared.

“They need to go to the government for advice on this – there’s no point talking to each other, none of them know what they’re doing.”

Sophisticats in Eversholt Street, Euston, is one of only two lap-dancing clubs in Camden to have re-opened since the pandemic rules relaxed. It had its licensing revoked after police investigated claims by a customer they had been “fleeced” with £50,000 bill. The club denied any wrong-doing, and remains open while it appeals.

One online recent review of a night out there said: “When my team delivers on a great project, I always treat them to a special business with pleasure night at SophistiCats. More deals have been closed since I started this. Recommend to use this technique.”

A council spokesperson said: “Following last week’s licensing committee, we will engage with the relevant local authorities to further understand and clarify the advice and decisions that they have made with regards to their own sex establishment policies.

“This will then be used to help develop our own policy for further consideration.”

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