A peaceful 8 hour hearing met today (7th July ) to decide the fate of Chester’s lap dancing club, the Platinum lounge. The meeting of the licensing committee was chaired by Cllr Lynn Clare.
The Platinum Lounge’s case for the renewal of their sexual entertainment venue (SEV) was put forward by Gary Grant, http://www.licensingbarrister.com/#!about-gary-grant/ctq9. He opened with a quote from Philip Larkin: “sexual intercourse began in 1963” and said that opponents wanted to return Chester to an “idyllic pre 1963 world… the pursuit of fun shackled by a tutting society” stressing that “morality is one thing you cant take into account” as stated in council policy. Mr Grant stated that of the 124 objections received, 75% were anonymous, something he found “Kafkaesque”
“Do we really want to to be the city that is overawed by the prospect of breasts being exposed behind closed doors? If people don’t like it don’t go in” said Grant. He also rejected the argument that the rows were sacred due to their historical nature saying the area was “so historical.. that most of the units seem to be empty”
First to give evidence were 2 residents who live adjacent to the premises. “I’ve had no problem whatsoever “ in 9 years said one. The other stated that she could “complain about slug and lettuce every day, particularly on race days. Why aren’t these people objecting to this as well?” She also praised the door staff for their approach to security on the rows .
A statement from the CH1 Chester BID said that no complaints had been received about PL from any BID members, or any reports of crime. It was later stressed that this was intended as a neutral statement which neither supported or opposed the license renewal .
Frank Marnell chair of Chester pub watch spoke in support of renewal saying he had no issues with the club. Gary Grant went on to say that signage was discrete as compared to sexually provocative adverts in shop windows, billboards for Fifty shades of grey, or for Magic Mike XXL. He asked if a picture of a woman in a sexy pose outside Rosies demeaned the character of the locality… “ I suggest not”
“Many people object to gambling but you do not ban Chester races!” he said as he continued to pursue a libertarian line.. “ Do you remove Lady Chatterly’s lover from the library? Do you close Ann Summers in the grosvenor centre?” York has 2 lapdancing clubs and was given as an example of a city proud of its past but wanting a diverse future.
Grant dismissed opposition from the Fortis student accommodation due to it being 138 metres away, and St Peters Church 139. The Dewa Roman experience, he said is closed well before Platinum lounge opens.
Darell Butterworth- licensing consultant was next to give evidence. He had inspected the club in June and observed the general street life at night, with loud music and offers of free shots to entice drinkers into various establishments. In support of the renewal he said that no venue was “perfect”. Cllr Crowe asked why concerns about bad language from the smoking area had been ignored. Mr Butterworth replied that due to the line of buildings the smoking area could not be seen from Whitefriars and claimed that sounds may have come from Commonhall street. PL, he said, had agreed to place a steward in the area in the future. Long term objector Deborah Lomas of the Rainforest shop referred again to noise complaints, but Butterworth said that only one complaint had been received and had been referred to the council in Jan 2014.
Butterworth challenged the evidence of the White Friars Residents association, who had employed 2 private investigators. Their evidence showed that dancers had broken the “12 inch rule” of keeping that dancers keeping that distance away from customers. PL stated that this was not a condition of their license and Butterworth argued “will all rules be kept in every field of business and professional life? No.” He said that PL took training and recruitment of dancers seriously and that some dancers, to compete with others and earn more may have crossed the line. Anyone found to be doing this had been dismissed.
Mr Grant then focused on the “impact on real peoples lives” with the club employing 30 staff. Two dancers, who asked to remain anonymous gave evidence. Both said that the club had treated them well with one saying “I’ve never felt as safe and happy as I do in Platinum lounge”
“I have a mortgage to pay..” closure “would affect me very badly” said the other dancer.
They were challenged by a member of the committee who said that the Lounge provided no retainer to staff “if you don’t dance you don’t get paid” Some light relief followed when Mr Grant replied that “the business model is self employed.. the same as being a barrister!”
After lunch opponents of renewal argued their case led by barrister Philip Kolvin http://cornerstonebarristers.com/barrister/philip-kolvin representing the White Friars residents. “I’m going to steer away from rhetoric.. its not about jobs, its not about other adverts.. you have to make a value judgement, that’s why you are elected.. its about a simple thing, should lap dancing be allowed” He told the committee that “the law states that you can refuse simply because the venue is in the wrong place.. The character of historic Chester is very much at the heart of this” A long period of legal details being explained followed, with national licensing law being quoted “applications will not normally be granted when the premises are near residential areas”
When the club opened in 2005 there were 16 residential units, this figure was now 180. “Consider the rows… I’ve been to Chester precisely twice” said Mr Kolvin “ to a newcomer its a remarkable and unified and historic city centre.. I’m trying to think of a single lap dancing club which is located in an historic asset” He said that clubs had been closed down in Leeds and Oxford due to proximity to residential areas. He listed a number of opponents of renewal from businesses on the street, many of whom had withdrawn their support due to corporate policy where staff had signed petitions supporting the club without authorisation. The Slug and Lettuce had stated that “it is not our corporate policy to support sexual entertainment venues”
The vice dean of Chester Cathedral Peter Howell Jones addressed the committee : “no moral issue from me.. I helped to establish a lapdancing chaplaincy in Birmingham”. He said that over the last 4 years the Cathedral had worked hard to re-establish its identity including developing attractions such as Cathedral at height and the forthcoming falconry centre. He said that the Cathedral’s opposition was related to the clarity over the city’s identity. “Its not morally wrong its just in the wrong place”
A statement was read out from developer Westby Homes who are building an apartment block on Commonhall street opening in Nov 2015, which stated that potential buyers were put off by the proximity of the club
At 4pm Cllr Sam Dixon spoke for “the residents who live in Chester city ward” stating that her new role as leader of the council was irrelevant to the hearing. “I don’t believe that Chester’s historic city centre is the right place for an SEV. I believe this venue is too close to residential areas” She asked the committee to listen to residents “they need to be heard”
John Hurson vice chair of the Civic Trust was the next opponent. He explained that the Trust had over 500 members and sought to promote conservation and trust. He asked again if it was appropriate to have the venue in “this locality..” and that the council “would look ridiculous if an SEV license was allowed to take root” and the establishment of a “marginal use” premises was “a symptom of incipient urban decline” This view was echoed by Peter Carsons of Chester Renaissance who said that he had no moral objections but that opposition was based solely on location. A lap dancing club on the row was “adverse to regeneration efforts”
Deborah Lomas was next to speak saying that she had fought the venue ever since it opened. “This club has changed the area to its detriment, the club’s main focus is to promote the illusion of sexual availability. These venues make women feel threatened and uncomfortable. I assume the club opened here to take advantage of drunk racegoers”
The King Street residents association said that PL should change their business model or relocate, believing that at 930 at night , “quite a number of children and children of tourists will be out.. its in completely the wrong place”
Finally evidence was presented by 2 private investigator who had carried out undercover visits funded by the White Friars residents. A number of intimate details were given ..”she placed her nipple less than an inch from my mouth” with dances being extremely close and sexually suggestive..”her middle finger was making a movement” etc. All of these points were said to be violations of the license as well as the allegation that dancers provided “extras” , toilets were dirty, customers had been observed snorting cocaine and that door staff were not wearing badges.
A final speaker had travelled all the way from Newcastle to vent her anger at the club. An ex Chester resident, she stated that she couldn’t understand “why there was a lap dancing club in such a historic part of Chester.. All of the clubs are pretty discrete… In Chester its right bang in front of you”
Closing arguments followed, Mr Kolvin said that the councils own policy was against lap dancing in this locality especially given the growth of the residential area. Renewal would be “contrary to all responsible opinion and policies” He stated that if the council did renew the license then the premises should be subjected to much greater scrutiny.
Mr Grant said that if the license was not renewed it would be a fallacy to suggest that there would be no lapdancing in Chester. He said that any license with an existing premises license could carry out sexual entertainment up to 11 times a year “without any permission at all” (See http://www.chesterchronicle.co.uk/news/chester-cheshire-news/lap-dancing-tour-after-platinum-6060554) . He said that lap dancing was popular and that there was a demand .. “if you create a vacuum, it will be filled by other operators”.
The chair thanked everyone for their evidence and said that the result would be “expected within 7 days”
With thanks to the Cwac press office