‘Wild cheering’ as councillors reject proposed strip clubs ban in Bristol

Licensing committee members voted by 10-1

A proposed ban on strip clubs in Bristol has been overwhelmingly rejected by city councillors.

Licensing committee members voted by 10-1 to retain the current limit of two sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) in the city centre and one in Old Market.

Councillors agreed with the vast majority of respondents to a 12-week consultation last autumn that the clubs should not be shut down.

Bristol strip club dancers and sex worker union campaigners celebrate the decision by the city council\’s licensing committee not to ban SEVs.Bristol strip club dancers and sex worker union campaigners celebrate the decision by the city council\’s licensing committee not to ban SEVs.
Bristol strip club dancers and sex worker union campaigners celebrate the decision by the city council\’s licensing committee not to ban SEVs.

They were given two options at the meeting on Thursday (May 28) – introduce a “nil cap” effectively prohibiting lap-dancing clubs anywhere in Bristol or keep the existing system.

The decision was greeted with wild cheers by the performers and sex worker campaigners in the public gallery at City Hall’s council chamber.

It brings to a close a six-year saga to refresh the local authority’s sex establishment policy and follows several different draft versions, U-turns and rounds of public consultation.

Tempers flared on occasions at the meeting as one councillor likened feminist groups to fascists and another criticised them for trying to stop other women making their own choices.

The proposed ban was backed at the meeting by Avon & Somerset police and crime commissioner Mark Shelford and there were also statements in support from Bristol South MP Karin Smyth and Bristol City Council cabinet member for women Cllr Helen Holland.

But the only committee member in favour was Labour Cllr Philippa Hulme who said there was a “huge weight of evidence” that strip clubs objectified women and that this was linked to violence against females.

Committee chairman Labour Cllr Marley Bennett said he had “agonised” over the decision during sleepless nights but that the two existing clubs Central Chambers and Urban Tiger should stay open because they were actually safer than a lot of other late-night venues.

Pole-dancers performing at Urban Tiger in Bristol.Pole-dancers performing at Urban Tiger in Bristol.
Pole-dancers performing at Urban Tiger in Bristol.

He said sexual entertainment was a legal, regulated activity and that the council’s director of public health had stated there was no direct link between SEVs and violence.

Tory Cllr Richard Eddy said: “We’ve been going round in circles on this issue for six years.

“Part of this has been not down to demand from the city we represent but because of organisations like the Fawcett Society who, like fascist organisations, are trying to stamp out activities they dislike.

“I’m absolutely horrified that this council may be making workers redundant in this city after the pandemic and in a cost-of-living crisis.

“This is monstrous. This would be forcing these women underground where they would not be safeguarded.

“I will be supporting maintaining a current cap of three and I would urge the committee to vote for empirical evidence and not for prejudices.”

Bristol City Council licensing committee on July 28.Bristol City Council licensing committee on July 28.
Bristol City Council licensing committee on July 28.

Green Cllr Guy Poultney said: “Some of the voices calling for a nil cap are sometimes advancing arguments that we should discount the views of some women in order to empower them, and to restrict their choices in the name of equality and to take away their jobs for their own good.

“There are some voices in this debate who seem to be asserting that some women cannot be trusted to make choices for themselves. “I cannot see how these voices can be speaking for women in this city.”

Labour group leader Cllr Steve Pearce said: “The evidence suggests you are more at risk in a city centre pub or club than you are in one of these premises, and evidence would suggest that up until fairly recently you were more at risk in the Oval Office than in one of these clubs.”

Lib Dem Cllr Sarah Classick said it was not the committee’s role to decide whether stripping was morally right or wrong.

She said it would happen anyway and that it was better for the council to regulate it because of the risk to women’s safety in unlicensed venues such as massage parlours.

Green Cllr Emma Edwards said the crime statistics did not show the two SEVs were a place of danger and that there was no evidence that closing them would help address the global issue of violence against women and girls.

Cllr Hulme said that just because there were no harms to the dancers did not mean there were no harms to women elsewhere in the city and that her duty was to them.

A pole-dancer at Urban Tiger strip club.A pole-dancer at Urban Tiger strip club.
A pole-dancer at Urban Tiger strip club.

She said the University of Bristol and UWE also opposed lap-dancing clubs and they should be listened to.

Labour Cllr Brenda Massey said: “It’s better to be regulated and inspected than to go underground. “We have a duty of protection for the workers. I would prefer licensed premises to unlicensed ones putting people at risk.”

Earlier, during public forum, Bristol’s Women Commission chairwoman Penny Gane told members that SEVs promoted sexism and violence towards females.

“It’s not appropriate for them to be licensed by any 21st-century city,” she said. “A city that licences strip clubs is by definition a city that licences sexism.”

PCC Mr Shelford told the committee: “This is about the legacy you councillors want to leave in the battle against violence against women and girls.”

Central Chambers strip club in Bristol.Central Chambers strip club in Bristol.
Central Chambers strip club in Bristol.

A representative from night-time economy group BARBI Bristol said: “Strippers should not be blamed for the violence of men.

“The relentless campaign by Bristol Women’s Voice and their associated organisations is from a moral standpoint.

“BARBI is extremely concerned that a council-funded organisation seems to have so much power and influence in the city.”

After the meeting, Bristol Women’s Commission said: “We are extremely disappointed and frustrated that Bristol City Council’s licensing committee has not taken this chance to take clear action to tackle the sexist culture that underpins male violence.

“SEVs promote and profit from the sexist culture that underpins male violence. “We cannot tackle male violence without addressing this culture.

“Today’s decision is inconsistent with the council’s wider aims to create a fair and equal city and is in direct conflict with investment into educating young men and boys about healthy relationships with women and girls.

“It reinforces a dangerous, sexist message to all women and girls that their value lies in their bodies and how they perform for men.”

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