BRISTOL: Strip club licence renewed
Image: Urban Tiger
A strip club has won the right to operate for another year despite a proposed ban in Bristol and dozens of objections from women’s rights campaigners.
Central Chambers in St Stephen’s Street had its annual application for a sexual entertainment venue (SEV) licence granted by Bristol city councillors on Thursday (September 16).
But public consultation is in the pipeline for the local authority’s controversial draft licensing policy including a “nil cap” on lap-dancing clubs, which would prohibit such establishments anywhere in the city.
Licensing sub-committee members were told 67 objections had been received to Central Chambers’ renewal application.
Bristol Women’s Commission chairwoman Penny Gane told the City Hally hearing: “In the case of SEVs, including the one seeking the licence today, women’s bodies are objectified for the sexual gratification of men.
“Bristol City Council has a duty to uphold equality law, yet it is this committee of the council that has enabled harmful attitudes towards women.
“The women’s commission is asking you now to end the support of these practices.”
She said many women avoided the area near the club because they felt unsafe.
Another objector said: “The dehumanisation of women makes it easier for men to behave violently towards women.”
She said the harms caused were to all women and not just those in the club.
Barrister Philip Kolvin QC, representing Central Chambers, said: “The dancers are strong, independent women who are capable of making their own choices and are both protected and in control. They regard themselves as feminists.
“Feminism fails when it tells a woman what she can and cannot do with her body.”
He said there were no objections from any authorities, including the police, licensing and environmental health.
“There is a very good reason for that – the applicant company and its owners and managers are of impeccable character,” he said.
“The conditions on the SEV and premises licence are observed, as are the codes of conduct for customers and dancers which are designed for public protection.
“The house rules are clearly understood and they are applied rigorously by the vigilant management team.
“There is a no-contact rule. It’s strictly enforced.
“The premises do not cause crime and disorder in the vicinity or more widely.”
Mr Kolvin said the Hale family, who have run the venue for 19 years without issues, were of “impeccable character”.
He said: “They generate a family atmosphere around the workers. The dancers are valued, respected and protected. It is a female-led venue.”
Mr Kolvin said some of the objectors were more concerned with whether lap-dancing was good or bad for society.
“Parliament has had that debate and it has decided lap-dancing is a lawful activity,” he said.
“These objections are just not relevant to this committee.
“I am conscious there is a political debate being had in this city but this is not a debate for you to have today.
“This is not a meeting to determine whether sexual entertainment should be permitted. It only concerns these premises and the regulatory tests under the legislation.”
He said no Core City, of which Bristol is one, had a nil cap of SEVs.
Mr Kolvin said the venue was open for topless and fully nude performances after 9pm, which require a licence, but that it was open in the day for private functions and activities that did not, including tea parties with a male butler and naked life-drawing classes.
A council licensing officer told the panel there were no statutory grounds for refusal, and the panel ruled there was also no reason to reject the licence on discretionary grounds, such as the club’s location or the applicants’ suitability.
Sub-committee chairwoman Cllr Fi Hance said: “We are assessing the application against current policy as it stands.
“There was insufficient reason not to grant.”
A hearing into a parallel licence renewal application by sister venue Urban Tiger takes place on Friday afternoon (September 17).
Words: Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter
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