A Hackney Road strip pub has had its licence renewed, successfully seeing off complaints by a resident claiming that the area is “changing dramatically”.
Ye Olde Axe will see its licence automatically up for renewal again within the year, under a 2011 policy by which the council banned new strip clubs and sex shops in the borough.
Much of the debate around the business of Ye Olde Axe centred at this week’s licensing sub-committee around the building’s neon sign, which reads ‘STRIPTEASE’, and its potential impact on council plans to revamp neighbouring Fairchild Gardens.
Owner Tom Melody said: “The sign has been there about 26 years. All the neon is now listed by English Heritage, as it was there when the building was listed in 2008.
“It’s quite a well-known sign – when it was put up it attracted quite a lot of attention, because it brightened the area up. There’s not that many buildings that have that sort of neon on them.
“It was quite well-liked, and I believe it still is, because loads of people take pictures of it and comment on it. I’m not wedded to having the sign. If it was a big issue the sign would be removed. I’m sure there’d be a lot of people who would be interested in buying it.”
Addressing Cllr Brian Bell (Lab, Brownswood), Melody quipped: “If you went and looked at it, you’d quite like it yourself.”
Cllr Brian Bell (Lab, Brownswood) responded: ” I have seen it.”
Melody countered: “Do you like it?”
Bell said: “I have no strong opinions on it.”
The strip pub owner was also grilled over the lack of a written management polciy to protect the safety and wellbeing of his employees.
According to the Axe’s current licence, a written policy must be available on request, but the landlord admitted that no such policy currently exists.
Resident Danie van der Spuy had made his objection to the licence’s renewal arguing that as the Axe is located near to an “active residential area”, as well as being near a GP surgery and a nursery, it was no longer appropriate for the area.
Van der Spuy said: “The neighbourhood is changing dramatically. Various new residential complexes are going up, including the complex that I’m living in and have bought into.
“Next door are approximately 200 new residential premises going up, the WeWork building, the Hoxton Project right behind us. That all sits within a 100m radius of this establishment.
“The area is regenerating and becoming a young family area with children and young people. There are various shops and coffee shops, and that is testament to the fact that Hackney Council want to invest in Fairchilds Garden.”
Dr Sasha Rokoff, CEO of anti-exploitation campaign Not Buying It, said: “Hackney has a policy for zero clubs, yet licenses three. Why? It is very easy for councils to close down pre-existing clubs on the grounds of locality.
“Strip pubs sound like some of the worst. Women walk around with a jar to collect pound coins after men have had an eyeful of vagina. How much groping and harassment is taking place, do you think?
“How does this promote equality when these men then walk past local schools and nurseries back to their offices?”
Solicitor David Forbes, acting for Ye Olde Axe, argued to the committee that it was inappropriate to refuse on premises on the grounds that other clubs had had their licences renewed without problems.
Forbes said: “It’s almost a matter of going back to revisiting the policy agreed upon in 2011. I accept that might be done at some future time.
“The main objection that I can see seems to relate to untidiness outside the premises. It is certainly right to say that there are cigarette butts in evidence. There is a certain irony is in this, as Mr Melody is the person most opposed to smoking of anybody I have ever met.
“The Axe has been there for 25 years. It may well be that the existence of it is unpleasant to some of the people who live there, but notification of this application was posted prominently on the outside of the premises, and produced one objection.
“There doesn’t feel to be an overwhelming feeling in the neighbourhood. Though there are no doubt feelings of discomfort from the objector, it is not of sufficient weight for the committee to refuse this application.”
Melody was asked during proceedings whether the building might not have containers for cigarette butts fixed to the outside to prevent littering, but the strip pub owner rejected this suggestion on the grounds that he believed them to be a fire hazard.
The landlord was recently slapped with a bill of £11,000 for a life-threatening fire at a pub he owns in Hertfordshire.
Cllr Peter Snell (Lab, Dalston), said: “We wish to clarify that a written management policy is required and the content is to be submitted to the licensing authority and police for agreement.
“Having considered the application and objections received, the committee decided the concerns about the existing licence could best be decided by amending and enforcing the current conditions.
“I trust that these premises will be better managed in the future and that we are not interfering with the proper operation of the business.”