Council must be wary of threat of legal action

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In leading a campaign to see a limit on lap dancing and strip bars in Portsmouth, Lib Dem Councillor Terry Hall appears to be acting for the right reasons.

She insists she is not a prude, but is concerned about the message she says such establishments send to visitors about our city and also to young people about how women can be treated.

She has suppport for her stance. Indeed, strip clubs could be banned under proposed new regulations being drawn up by the city council.

Councillors would be able to set a limit on the number of ‘sexual entertainment venues’ allowed in each of the city’s 14 wards – and in theory that limit could be set at zero.

This is being made possible by a new government rule which means strip clubs can now be regulated alone, rather than under rules applying to other licenced venues, such as bars, nightclubs and restaurants.

Councillors could refuse these clubs on such grounds as being too close to houses, churches, schools, parks or nurseries

Previously, it has had to use normal licensing laws, including rules on noise and disorder, to consider sexual entertainment licence applications.

To those who frequent the city’s two existing strip clubs (a third opens on Friday and a fourth has permission to open, so they obviously think there’s a market here), the council’s attitude will no doubt seem censorious and heavy-handed.

All of these clubs would have to apply for new licences whenever a new policy came in and could lose the right to trade in the city.

What is important is that the public should be allowed to comment on the council’s plans before they are implemented – and that each application for a strip club licence must continue to be considered on its merits. But we’re still left with one major concern about how the council uses its new-found powers.

What if we end up in a situation where a strip club’s owner begins a legal battle because they can trade freely in other cities but are barred from doing so in Portsmouth?