Town councillors, the Local Government Association and women’s rights groups have all added their voices to mounting calls for tougher regulation of lap-dancing clubs.
A Government consultation with local councils in England and Wales on licensing laws closes today.
The Licensing Act 2003 treats lap-dancing clubs outside London in the same licensing category as bars, cafés and restaurants.
This gives local councils very little power to reject licensing applications, regardless of objections from local residents.
The number of lap-dancing clubs in Britain is estimated to have doubled to around 300 since the Act came into effect.
Women’s rights groups have spoken out against the laws. Dr Sasha Rakoff of Object called on the Government to “send out a powerful message that buying a lap-dance is not the same as buying a cappuccino.”
In a letter to The Times today councillors from Brighton, Warwick and London warned that “the hands of local authorities have been tied”.
They added: “the only viable solution is to allow local authorities to licence lap-dancing clubs as sex encounter establishments – venues that provide visual sexual entertainment.
“This would give local authorities vital powers to regulate where, when and on what terms lap-dancing clubs may be established. It would also make it easier for licensing committees to listen to residents.”
Meanwhile, the Local Government Association has made its opinion clear in a public letter to licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe MP.
In the letter Vice Chairman Sir Jeremy Beecham said: “The new licensing laws, under the Licensing Act 2003, were intended to give local people more of a say on how pubs and clubs are run in their area but when it comes to lap-dancing establishments councils often find there’s little they can do to respond to people’s wishes.”
He added: “Residents who find out about a proposed lap-dancing club often have worries about a potential increase in crime and a proliferation of these kinds of venues, but councils are not always able to take these concerns into account. It’s a loophole which needs closing.
“Local democracy depends on people being able to voice their opinions, and on councils being able to consider those views. Our towns and cities should be shaped as far as possible according to residents’ wishes, not by the presence of unwanted lap-dancing clubs in the heart of them.”
Sir Jeremy also advocated licensing lap-dancing clubs as “sex encounter establishments” in order to resolve the problem.
The licensing minister has already admitted that “the protections and regulations set out in the 2003 [Licensing] Act and elsewhere do not go as far as some people would like”.
The Conservative Party has pledged to give local communities more power to oppose licence applications from lap-dancing clubs if they are elected to government.
Labour MP, Roberta Blackman-Woods, recently introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill calling for lap-dancing clubs to be subject to stricter licensing rules.