Church tells my council not to moralise

The East London Borough of Hackney is trying to wipe lap dancing clubs and sex shops out of my back yard. I’m pleased to see men of the cloth joining me in pointing out that since the businesses are perfectly legal, it is not the goody-two-shoes local councilors’ job to abolish them.

The Vicar of St Leonards Shoreditch, says it is not for the local government to impose a moral code on its citizens. I agree with Paul Turp that it’s inappropriate for the council to decide which (absolutely legal) businesses may and may not operate in an area already desperately short of jobs. But I myself am especially infuriated at the way they are trying to do it.

I stumbled on the council’s clumsiness a couple of months ago, when I was responding to a call for opinions about a new one way system. There on the website was a “Consultation” asking for our opinions about a new sex shop licensing regime. Along with a paper telling us why they’ve already decided what they are going to do, there’s a draft of what they are planning to do, and a questionnaire.

Here’s the key paragraph from the planned policy:

1.5 The Council has considered the character of its wards and determined that the appropriate number of sex establishments for each ward is nil. It will not allow further licences to be granted where the appropriate number is exceeded. Please refer to paragraph 5 for more details.

There follows another nine pages of gumph before one gets to the critical paragraph 5. What that does is list the total number of lap dancing clubs, sex shops and erotic cinemas the council has deemed appropriate per ward:

…and so on, for all 19 wards. And then the coup de grace:
“5.1.4 There is no right of appeal against a decision based on this element of the Policy.”

So all that precedes and follows it, including the detailed description of the appeals process should your application get turned down, is null and void. It appears that the “consultation” itself may be null and void. Despite putting forms on its web site, the Good Governors of Hackney have decided that “Any unsolicited comments will not be taken into consideration”. And just to hedge their bets even more fully against undesirable opinions such as those of the highly respected vicar of one of the most socially engaged parishes in east London, we have this:

“2.4 The Licensing Authority will give due weight to the views of those consulted and amend the Policy where appropriate following responses received. In determining what weight to give particular representations, the factors to be taken into account will include:
• who is making the representation (what is their expertise or interest)
• what their motivation may be for their views
• how many other people have expressed the same or similar views
• how far representations relate to matters the Council should include in its Policy.”

Having spent many a long year living in countries where I am allowed to pay taxes but not allowed to vote, this is my first real experience of grass roots democracy at work. I’m looking forward to seeing whether our concern that men and women in Hackney ought to be allowed to do whatever work they please within the limits of the law is upheld in this process. Any readers who live in Hackney, or know anyone who does, are urged to respond to the consultation before December 13th.

This post was published on 08/12/10 in Ideology and HIV, The sex trade.

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  1. Comment by Toby, 08/12/10, 09:32:

    Marty Klein talks about similar efforts (except countrywide) happening in Iceland: http://sexualintelligence.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/%E2%80%9Cfeminism%E2%80%9D-in-iceland-saving-women-from-their-own-adulthood/

  2. Comment by FrZeile, 04/04/11, 12:29:

    Perhaps I missed something, but if your local council outlaws the activity how can you describe it as legal? Isn’t it “potentially legal activity”? Or are we talking about activity legal if there were a place licensed for it?

    BTW, I am enjoying your book Wisdom of…(Oh, I can’t say[write]it).

  3. Comment by elizabeth, 04/04/11, 01:01:

    “Erotic entertainment” of various sorts is legal in Britain. But yes, most activities that fall under that rubric take place in establishments that need a license. By refusing to grant one, the local council is essentially “outlawing” an activity which is not prohibited by law.

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