'Radical' decision on banning new sex venues in Sheffield deferred

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Sheffield councillors deferred a 'radical' decision to put a ban on new sex venues, unless in exceptional circumstances, saying they need to see more research.

Sheffield Council’s licensing committee said they needed more evidence about whether a ‘zero limit’ policy would reduce or even increase harm to workers in the sex industry.

Councillor Andy Bainbridge, chair of the committee, said: “If we're going to make a radical change to our policy like this I need to be convinced by everything that I've heard that this is the correct approach.

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"I'm not happy with the public health information and I'm not happy that the other side of the argument has not been presented to us. But I always feel that I have to be convinced of every decision I am taking and, I'm sorry, I'm not.

Spearmint Rhino, Sheffield.Spearmint Rhino, Sheffield.
Spearmint Rhino, Sheffield.

"There also needs to be consideration of other options, we seem to be going from one extreme to another that we don't have a number or we have zero."

The zero limit is in place in some local authorities around the country including Rotherham.

If approved, it would mean councillors with the power to grant licences would take a starting point of refusal on sexual entertainment venues and would need to be shown 'exceptional' reasons to grant - such as having a long history of operating in the city, like in the case of Spearmint Rhino strip club.

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Sheffield's current sexual entertainment policy was set in 2011 and grants venues a licence based on its merits with no limit on how many the city can have, although there are only two: Spearmint Rhino and La Chambre swingers club.

A zero limit policy was approved in the city in 2017 after calls from campaigners to crack down on the industry but was scrapped after a judicial review before it arrived back on the agenda this week.

Coun Joe Otten, member of the committee, said: "We didn't see this coming, it appeared in our papers that officers proposed a nil cap with a presumption to refuse and it all feels a little bit rushed.

"It needs to be a considered process, we need both sides of the argument, we need to hear all the stuff on the risks that dancers are exposed to.

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"There are all these issues that need to be considered and balanced and I think we were right to defer it. Despite the agenda papers being 500 pages thick it didn't have very much of that content in it.

"The problem is when an issue becomes polarised and politicised everyone has their evidence and it's the task of weighing that up with an open mind that is extremely difficult.

"For me, it's about minimising the harm, listening to the dancers and respecting their choices that is the right thing and if there is an exploitative industry out there yes, let's protect them but not take away their right to choose."

Councillors agreed to allow officers around six months to pull together more evidence - including on exit programmes when workers leave, whether workers are safer in a venue or freelance and the impact of a zero limit policy on other cities - but said it should take no longer than a year.