STRIP CLUBS BAN: Councillors seek consultation
Passions ran high as councillors voted narrowly to send a proposed ban on lap-dancing clubs in Bristol out to public consultation.
Licensing committee members were torn between those who believed “history will be on the side of a nil cap” and others who said the city council had kept asking whether sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) should be prohibited until it got the answer it wanted.
They decided by 7-6 votes, with one abstention, on Monday (March 8) to ask residents and interest groups what they thought of a new draft policy setting the maximum number of strip clubs to zero.
But the decision, which could force the closure of the city’s two city centre SEVs Urban Tiger and Central Chambers and put hundreds of mostly female jobs at risk, was described as “monstrous” and “pandering to the views” of women’s rights activists on moral grounds.
One councillor who voted in favour said afterwards she would oppose a “nil cap” when it comes back to committee for a final decision if the majority of respondents to the 12-week consultation continued to support SEVs.
In a council survey in 2019 over a largely unchanged policy maintaining the current maximum levels at two lap-dancing clubs in the city centre and one in Old Market/West Street, two-thirds of people said they should remain open and regulated.
But a working group comprising officers and councillors, set up five years ago to review the existing policy dating back to 2011, subsequently proposed a citywide ban, which the committee has now put out to consultation after hearing impassioned pleas from campaigners on both sides of the argument.
Cllr Harriet Clough told Monday’s meeting: “If we were going to close any single club in Bristol to make the nightlife safer, it would not be Urban Tiger or Central Chambers.
“There are far more rapes and assaults associated with nightclubs in Bristol than there are with SEVs.”
Cllr Richard Eddy said: “We are asked not to give our taste, our moral view, whether we believe these sorts of clubs should exist, we are asked to weigh up the crime statistics and the evidence and say if we believe there is a link.
“In my view there is no link at all.
“The existing clubs are well run and well regulated, so I can’t see evidence that we should drop the cap to nil.
“That would be a grave mistake.”
Cllr Eddy said a ban could push the activities underground where performers would have no support.
“Our businesses and our people are struggling to survive and recover from Covid,” he said.
“Are we seriously going to make these people unemployed? That seems monstrous.
“Commonsense and defence of the interests of the workers mean we should keep the current cap rather than pandering to the views of the Fawcett Society.
“That’s the sort of morality we should vote for.
“I hope we agree not to go out to consultation which means we go back to the current cap figure which people understand and most Bristolians approve of.”
Cllr Chris Windows said: “This whole process has gone on longer than Brexit and people are getting fed up of it.
“It gives the impression we keep asking the question until we get the answer somebody wants.
“Let’s kick this zero-cap suggestion into the long grass.
“It’s dangerous to the city and to the women in this city.”
But Cllr Marg Hickman said: “Casual street harassment of women and domestic homicide are some of the biggest issues Bristol has to deal with.
“I’m not saying all of that comes from these two clubs, but some of it probably does.
“There is evidence to suggest this.
“We can’t ignore the violence against women that is perpetrated by people who attend these venues.”
She agreed with Cllr Lucy Whittle to ask the administration to help the lap-dancers find other employment or retraining, although one of them told the Local Democracy Reporting Service last week that they could earn “upwards of a grand” in one night at the clubs.
Cllr Fi Hance said: “There is an issue of ethics around this which I find quite uncomfortable.
“I think history will be on the side of a nil cap, but I’m not convinced that legally we aren’t going to get sued, and successfully, by some very powerful vested business interests if we put a nil cap on at the moment, so I’m very torn.”
Cllr Hibaq Jama said: “The policy hasn’t been reviewed for 10 years.
“Going out to consultation one more time is a good thing because it gives the public the chance to tell us again definitively what they think about this new draft policy.”
Cllr Paul Goggin said if members did not put it out to consultation, they would be “rejecting everything the cross-party working group came up with”.
But Cllr Eleanor Combley said that was not a valid argument because the working group had now come back with “two completely different answers” – firstly, in 2019, to keep the current levels of SEVs and now to abolish them.
A Bristol City Council officer told the meeting they found no evidence that a nil cap in other cities forced the industry underground.
However, Cllr Paula O’Rourke, who voted in favour of consultation, said afterwards: “If something is underground, how do you prove it’s underground?
“That’s a very high burden of proof.
“I was prepared to vote against a nil cap but we were put in a position where if we voted against going out to consultation, we were going back into that seventh circle of hell where no decisions were being made.
“So I voted to go out to consultation.
“It’s about regulation and equality. If we apply the Equalities Act, you’ve got to give women the freedom of choice.
“SEVs are very well regulated. About 60 per cent of citizens feel happy with the situation as it is so the arguments are very compelling to maintain the status quo.
“When the policy comes back to committee after consultation I would vote against it but it is correct that the only way forward for now is to give citizens the opportunity to make their views known.”
No dates have yet been set for the consultation, which is expected to be delayed by the purdah period ahead of the local elections.
Words: Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter
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