Expectations vs. Hackney Council
The committee is currently conducting a survey – by way of an online questionnaire – seeking the opinions of Hackney residents and other interested parties. The committee currently issues Sex Establishment Licences to four venues within its wards: Expectations and four ‘erotic-dancing’ clubs (lap-dancing or strip clubs).
In drawing up its draft Sex Establishment Licensing Policy, the committee states: “A ‘nil’ policy is being proposed which would mean no licences will be granted to sex establishments in Hackney.”
The explanation to the drive behind this new policy, is contained in a leaflet which points up that “Hackney is a young borough with its young people facing significant pressure to engage in behaviour that make (sic) them vulnerable to harm, for example drugs, sex and crime.”
Other factors taken into account are the area’s “diverse cultural communities”, and Hackney’s strategic vision for the borough over the coming decade as “an aspirational, working borough; a vibrant part of this world city, renowned for its innovative and creative economy; a place that values the diversity of its neighbourhoods and makes the most of their links across the globe to enrich the economic and social life of everyone who lives in the borough.”
Expectations has been open since the early 1980s, but was bought in the mid-00s by Millivres Prowler Ltd – who also own the Prowler store in Soho and magazines such as Gay Times.
Millivres Prowler Chief Executive, Chris Gaham-Bell, says that the Licence Committee’s decision to change its policy came “out of the blue”. He says that the store has never experienced licensing problems in the past.
“We only applied for a licence five years ago when we started selling our R-18 DVDs. Prior that, we weren’t selling R-18, and Expectations has been trading for almost 30 years. But we had no problem getting the licence. We are visited by the council; no-one’s made any objections, and we’ve had no problems until now.”
Asked what he thinks has prompted the change in policy, and he’s unequivocal: “I’m not terribly surprised, and I think it’s going to happen with other councils. It all stems from the Policing and Crime act of 2009, which demanded that lap-dancing and strip clubs had to have a Sex Establishment Licence.”
Prior to this change in the law, lap-dancing clubs were considered by councils to be in the same category as pubs and cafés, and objections to them could only be raised on the grounds of crime, nuisance or public safety. However, since April 2010, lap-dancing clubs have been re-classed as sex establishments, and they must now obtain a Sex Establishment Licence. The change was brought about following a steep rise in the number of lap-dancing clubs – more than doubling to over 300 in the UK since 2004. At the time of the change in law, then Home Office Minister Alan Campbell said: "Many people have told us they don't want a lap-dancing club in their neighbourhood and feel that the existing legislation does not adequately take account of their concerns… these important reforms will give local authorities the powers they need to respond to the concerns of local people regarding the number and location of lap-dancing clubs in their area."
Graham-Bell believes that Hackney are acting primarily out of a concern at the growth in lap-dancing clubs in the area – something to which many residents are opposed. Unfortunately, a blanket ban on Sex Establishment Licences would also impact on Expectations. A spokesperson for Hackney council, however, insisted that their consultation was firmly focused on all types of sex establishments.
When asked if the council could understand why some people were upset that Expectations, a long-running and established gay business, might lose its licence, the spokespersons responded: “The Licensing Committee is consulting on sex establishments as a whole, and this includes shops. Views are welcomed on whether local residents and businesses think there is a place for each of the three types of sex establishments (shops, cinemas, entertainment venues) in Hackney. The Committee encourages all community members to respond to the consultation, so as wide a range of views as possible is gathered.”
The shop’s only ray of hope is that its supporters make their views known to the council. Graham-Bell believes that the ‘nil’ policy is likely to be approved, but thinks there is a chance that the Licence Committee might possibly make exemptions for established retail businesses such as Expectations.
“Go on to Hackney Council’s website – there is a consultation questionnaire on the website – have your say – it’s a very simple form and we really would appreciate as many people going on that site and filling in that form as possible.”
When asked if any exemptions might be possible, Hackney Council’s spokesperson was non-committal; “The Committee will use the responses to inform the policy proposal and a decision on how to take the proposal forward will be made at a Full Council meeting.”
The form can be viewed at www.hackney.gov.uk/licensing – the deadline for giving your views is 13 December 2010.
Posted: 22 November 2010