BREAKING: Controversy over ‘sexual entertainment’ licence

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A CONTROVERSIAL bid by Sheffield lapdancing club Spearmint Rhino for a new licence will be heard today.

There is strong opposition to the Brown Street venue’s bid for a sexual entertainment licence, which it must obtain to stay in business due to a change in the law.

Objectors say it is holding back the development of the Cultural Industries Quarter and is inappropriate for a “gateway” to the city centre, a few minutes’ walk from the railway station. Today they will urge councillors to refuse to grant a sexual entertainment venue licence.

The ‘Gentlemen’s Club,’ part of a national chain, opened nine years ago, next to a small area of public open space and the former National Centre for Popular Music, and now finds itself in the spotlight in Sheffield as a result of new powers granted to local authorities.

Critics are taking the opportunity to try to close down the Brown Street club on the grounds that it breaches new council guidelines designed to ensure sex establishments are in appropriate locations. Previously they only required a standard licence.

Many of the 56 letters of objection to the council repeat the line that the Cultural Industries Quarter is the wrong place for the club.

“We believe that having a pole dancing club overlooking the one public park in the area is inhibiting the growth and development of the businesses in the quarter,” they say.

The area has become a “cultural hub”, with four galleries, more than 200 workspaces for artists and other creative people, Sheffield Hallam Art School and Hallam students’ union.

The area is now an educational centre for young people thanks to workshops and training for the under-16s, and Hallam University and the Freeman College consolidating their work with young people.

Objectors, who include the Site Gallery, add: “For this area to develop in the future as a thriving place, drawing inward investment and supporting world class artistic production, the quality of the area needs to be protected.”

One protester said: “As a woman, as a mother and as a proud citizen of Sheffield, I am offended and embarrassed by the presence of a lap dancing club in the heart of our Cultural Industries Quarter. This establishment promotes women as passive objects of entertainment and normalises this objectification as a ‘fun night out’ for the boys.”

Another adds: “It is a poor reflection on Sheffield that a strip club is considered suitable for a cultural quarter.”

The application to a council licensing committee comes from London-based Sonfield Developments Ltd, which operates Spearmint Rhino.

It says: “The premises has operated for a number of years with policies and practices to promote the licensing objectives under the Licensing Act 2003. No complaints have been received. It is not proposed to change the operation, policies or practices.”

Only the entrance foyer is visible from the outside of the premises, no under-18s are allowed in and there is CCTV inside and outside, it is pointed out.

A long list of the rules of the club is submitted with the application.

Councillors have the options of granting the licence, refusing it or imposing new conditions.

Two other Sheffield clubs are applying for sexual entertainment venue licences and their bids will be discussed at a separate meeting on Thursday.

A council licensing committee will consider applications from Villa Mercedes in Charter Square in the city centre and La Chambre in Attercliffe. No objections have been lodged in either case.

Separate hearings will be next Thursday.