The fate of Bristol’s strip clubs will be decided within six weeks, it has been revealed.
Licensing committee chairman Marley Bennett announced at the end of this week’s meeting, on 16 June, that the long-awaited Bristol City Council vote on a proposed ban on sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) will take place next time the group gathers.
The Eastville ward Labour councillor said: “The date of the next meeting is July 28 and is the hearing to decide the SEV policy.”
Members were told they will be asked to attend a briefing session lasting up to five hours with a barrister who is an “expert in the field” ahead of the next committee meeting to explain the law.
Bennett said: “We can say publicly that we have been thinking about the consequences of our decision, so we want to ensure that members are as fully equipped as possible to make a decision in a legal matter.”
The decision is set to conclude a saga that has dragged on for years and divided opinion in the city – not least among Cable readers, more than 70 of whom shared strong views last September on whether Bristol should ban strip clubs.
A draft new policy drawn up by council officers more than 15 months ago suggested introducing a “nil cap” on lap-dancing venues across the city for the first time. The proposed changes, which represent a major U-turn by the local authority, would see them all banned.
Last year’s new draft policy proposed a ban amid concerns from women’s groups of links between strip clubs and sexual violence, although a report to the licensing committee in March last year also said there was insufficient local evidence to link the city’s SEVs with crime or sexual assaults. Meanwhile, strippers in Bristol are campaigning against the plans, and say that a ban would either take away their jobs or force them to work in less regulated spaces.
Although a 12-week public consultation was held between September and December last year, the results still have not been published, let alone what any recommendations would be. The council had initially promised that the results would be made public in February, but missed its own deadline.
Committee member Chris Windows, Conservative councillor for Henbury and Brentry, raised the issue at a full council meeting in May, urging the local authority to set a date for licensing members to make a decision.
He said the council was “going round in circles” and that the delays were “positively dangerous”.
Windows told May’s meeting: “The licensing authority is in danger of being accused of asking for guidance but not liking the result and proposing another consultation.”
A panel of councillors renewed the licences of Bristol’s two SEVs, Urban Tiger and Central Chambers, last September despite the axe hanging over them. This was part of an annual licensing process. Women’s campaigners objected but the police did not and licensing sub-committee members heard the establishments had compiled with all licensing conditions.
The latest public consultation is the second in two years. A largely unchanged policy faced months of delays before going out to consultation in 2019, with about two-thirds of respondents agreeing the clubs should be allowed to stay open.