thoughts on our urban future

Vice Uses, Part 2

I was waiting for the results of a recent consultation in Hackney on the licensing of ‘sex establishments’ to write this post.

Hackney Council recently ran a public consultation on a proposal for a ‘nil policy’ on all ‘sex establishments’ including sex shops, strip clubs, and adult cinemas.  Hackney currently has one licensed sex shop and four licensed strip clubs.  The original proposed policy would have forced the closure of these businesses and kept any others from being opened.

The results of the public consultation were interesting.  According to the Hackney Citizen:

“More than 2,700 people answered the questionnaire, which ran from September 20 to December 13 last year.  Of those, 68 per cent were against a ‘nil’ policy for sex cinemas, 78 per cent for sex shops and 67 per cent for sex entertainment venues.  These were echoed by the views of respondents living close to Hackney’s five sex establishments (E1, E2 and EC2 postcodes) where the results were 75 per cent, 83 per cent and 76 per cent respectively.”

So I was both perplexed and angered to learn that on Wednesday Hackney Council’s licensing committee voted to approve a modified ‘nil’ policy on sex establishments, the only difference being that the existing establishments would be able to stay.

I was alerted to the consultation by some people on the internet and I was interested in it because I live in Hackney.  I would consider myself an open minded individual and I have never had a problem with the ‘sex establishments’ that are in and around my where I’ve live.  All of the strip clubs have bouncers who tend to keep the peace and are out on the streets when no one else is at 2am.  The only sex shops I know in my wider area are one in Islington and one in Hoxton, both of which seem to provide a service to the local area without being a blight on the urban environment.  In fact there is no discernible negative impact of local ‘sex establishments’ in my area.  Although I suppose there might be an argument for lower property values around such establishments, that certainly would not hold true for Browns at Shoreditch Church (one of the venues in question).  I wrote in to the consultation and stated my objection to the nil policy on the grounds that it would make more sense to set standards for trading rather than ban a business all together that didn’t seem to be doing anyone any harm.  On top of which, I don’t actually know of a ‘sex establishment’ in my immediate vicinity, though as discussed previously I have at least 9 betting shops within a five minute walk which I find far more offensive and community damaging.

However, what angers me about this process is not necessarily the consultation itself, but rather that the Council is so blatantly going against the majority opinion of the local public.  Are these not elected officials?  Do they not represent their voting constituency?  Had the consultation come back strongly in favor of the nil policy, then this would have been a very different article, because I was not in favor of the policy.  But it looks like 2/3 of the consulted public agree with me (and a higher proportion of 3/4 of those that actually live by the venues), so what gives?

According to the Hackney Gazette:

“Cllr Chris Kennedy, chairman of the council’s licensing committee, has said he believes “sex establishments do not fit with the character of our town centres and neighbourhoods.”

But that is clearly not the will of the people.  And is also unrepresentative of the current and expected presence of sex establishments in Hackney town centers.  And clearly the people in the neighborhoods that already have them by in large don’t mind.  With all this talk of big society and local governance it seems both strange and inappropriate for a Council to so clearly move against the general public.  It also seems inappropriate for a Council to be imposing moral standards that are inconsistently applied on the physical environment (again, I reference the betting shops).

Hackney Council, shame on you.

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