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New powers to crack down on lap-dancing clubs

12 February 10 14:59 GMT

New powers to control lap-dancing clubs are being given to councils in England and Wales, the Home Office has said.

Current licensing laws put clubs in the same category as pubs and cafes and councils can object only on the grounds of crime, nuisance or public safety.

From April, clubs will be classed as sex establishments and residents will be able to oppose venues for being "inappropriate" to the area.

London club owner Peter Stringfellow said the change was "unnecessary".

He told the BBC he would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights if his licences - which he refers to as his "private property" - were not renewed by his local London authority.

"That gives me an open and shut case in a European court but I don't anticipate any problems with Westminster," he said.

Existing clubs will have 12 months to apply for a licence or face closure.

'Important reforms'

The change in law follows a government consultation on licensing laws for lap-dancing clubs.

It is estimated the number of such clubs has doubled to more than 300 since 2004.

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.

"From April 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."

Under the new rules - part of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 - local authorities will be able to stop clubs opening near schools or in quiet neighbourhoods.

And the number of venues can be limited in those areas where clubs are permitted.

Striptease acts in pubs or working men's clubs will not be affected, as long as there are fewer than 12 performances a year.

'Valid worries'

Equality Minister Harriet Harman said: "If people don't want to have a sleazy lap-dancing club in their neighbourhood, they shouldn't be forced to have one."

The move has been welcomed by the Local Government Association.

Its culture chairman Chris White said: "Parents' concerns about what their children might see during their walk home from school and neighbours' feelings about the reputation of their local area are very valid worries which councils wanted to be able to respond to.

"The existence of a large number of lap-dancing clubs in a small area does have consequences for people who live and work there."

Dr Sasha Rakoff, director of Object, which campaigned for the change in the law along with the Fawcett Society, said it was a "tremendous victory for women's rights and democracy".

"It represents a sea change in the tidal wave of 'sex object culture' that has engulfed us and in which an entire generation has now been groomed," she said.

'Hell-bent'

But lap dancing club owners said a change in the law would lead to job losses and lower investment in a £2.1bn industry.

Peter Stringfellow, whose two London clubs have featured nude dancing girls since the mid-1990s, said the change in the law had closed a loophole, which had allowed some "table-side dancing clubs" to open without appropriate licences.

But he said making every club re-apply was "overdoing it", blaming the "extreme feminist organisation, the Fawcett Society" for putting pressure on former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Equality Minister Harriet Harman.

"Clubs like mine that had the appropriate licences should be separated from the clubs they were concerned about," he said.

The Lap Dancing Association said the government had been "hell-bent" on introducing this legislation regardless of the 25,000 people employed in the industry.

It also questioned the legal right of local authorities to base licensing decisions on "emotive and moralistic grounds".

Vice-chairman Chris Knight said: "It is undoubtedly right that local residents should have a say in planning and licensing decisions, but it is downright misleading and disingenuous to imply that they can do so on these grounds.

"Ms Harman should come clean and be honest about exactly how this new law will work in practice."

In 2008, lap dancers protested at Downing Street against the proposals, saying it would stigmatise performers.

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