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Guidance on Licensing of Lap Dancing Clubs

In a case which gives important guidance on the correct approach to the licensing of sex establishments, the Court of Appeal has ruled that a businessman who spent more than £100,000 setting up a lap dancing club in Oxford was justifiably refused a licence renewal after the venue had been open for just one year.

The club had faced a barrage of objections from the Oxford Feminist Network who carried out a survey of women in the area, some of whom claimed that they had been ‘harassed’ by punters leaving the venue. Other objections were based on the club’s proximity to an ice rink, used by many children, a college, a car and coach park bringing tourists to the city and student accommodation.

However, the businessman argued that the club had flourished ‘happily’ and ‘without incident’ since its opening night, providing local employment and entertainment. He argued, amongst other things, that it was ‘perverse’ of the City Council’s licensing sub-committee to refuse to renew a licence, which had been granted just a year earlier, when ‘nothing had changed’.

Those arguments fell on fallow ground in the High Court and, in dismissing the club’s appeal, the Court found that the committee was entitled to take the view that the club’s location was ‘inappropriate’ for a lap dancing club ‘having regard to the character of the relevant locality’.

The Court found that, whilst the committee was required to pay ‘due regard’ to the fact that a licence had previously been granted and to give reasons for departing from its earlier decision, it had not been necessary for objectors to demonstrate that ‘something had changed’ prior to the renewal application. The committee had also been entitled to take into account proposals for large-scale developments of student accommodation in the area.

The Court concluded: “On a fair reading of the decision, it is clear that the committee concluded on the evidence relating to the club’s operation over the previous year that the limitation of opening times and absence of external indications as to the nature of the activities taking place had not been sufficient to protect the character of the area”.