Sex establishments consultation: majority say no to Hackney Council’s ‘nil’ policy

Still from Hands Off, a film by Winstan Whitter

The results of Hackney Council’s consultation on the licensing of sex establishments have revealed the majority of respondents are opposed to the proposed ‘nil’ policy.

More than 2,700 people answered the questionnaire, which ran from September 20 to December 13 last year.

Of those, 68 per cent were against a ‘nil’ policy for sex cinemas, 78 per cent for sex shops and 67 per cent for sex entertainment venues.

These were echoed by the views of respondents living close to Hackney’s five sex establishments (E1, E2 and EC2 postcodes) where the results were 75 per cent, 83 per cent and 76 per cent respectively.

The report, which is to be reviewed by the licensing committee on 12 January before being put to full council on 26 January, also states that: “While the proposed ‘nil’ policy may result in no further premises being opened, the policy does not require existing premises to close.”

Comments against the ‘nil’ policy included freedom of choice, opposition to the council making moral judgements, legal venues minimising the risk of illegal venues and causing unemployment by closing existing venues.

Expectations on Great Eastern Street in Shoreditch was also mentioned by several respondent as providing valuable safe sex and health advice to the gay community.

Comments in support of the ‘nil’ policy included worries about the objectification of women, residents feeling unsafe walking past the venues, the venues attracting and generating prostitution and general concern about immorality and seediness.

Other consistent themes in the comments were that the council had already made up its mind prior to the consultation and that this policy is part of a wider strategy by the council to clean Hackney up before the 2012 Olympic Games.

Having considered the responses to the consultation, the council is proposing to go ahead with the ‘nil’ policy across the whole borough.

The council qualifies its stance by stating that “given the level of opposition to the ‘nil’ policy from some respondents and in recognition of the existing establishments that have operated in Haggerston for a considerable period of time it is suggested that these existing premises be treated as a special exception to the ‘nil’ in policy in Haggerston only.

“Such exceptional circumstances will only be applied to the existing establishments if they can demonstrate that their premises islongstanding, well-run, and does not generate significant levels of concern among the community and/or statutory authorities.”

Pauline Bristow, partner and licensee of the White Horse on Shoreditch High Street, said she is cautiously optimistic about the news:  “We are quite pleased with the results of the survey, but we do feel that we still still be impeded in our renewal application. We feel that Hackney Council will impose some onerous conditions.

“We felt that doing the survey might have promoted the voice of people who are against gentleman’s venues and encouraged them to say ‘we don’t want them here’. I think the wording of the policy is very, very wrong, to call us sex establishments implies that sex is going on behind our doors. It should be exotic dancing venues, it is very misleading.

“People know they have to behave themselves in these venues, they are not allowed to get away with what they are in normal clubs. Police reports show less problems from our venues than ordinary ones, so what is the problem? We are hopeful, but we are not holding our breath,” she said.

Following the adoption of the powers afforded by the Policing and Crime Act 2009 (‘the 2009 Act’) the Council regulates Sex Establishments under Schedule 3 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 (‘the 1982 Act’), as amended by the 2009 Act.

The council adopted the amended powers on 21st July 2010, which consequently took effect on 15 September 2010.

By re-adopting the 1982 Act, as amended the council continues to regulate sex establishments as they did previously. The 1982 Act allows the council to introduce a limit as to the number of sex establishments in its locality, which can be ‘nil’ should the Council deem it appropriate. The amended powers also allow for different limits to be set for the different types of sex establishments, should the council wish to do so.


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