Two Days Left to Have Your Say on Albert Road Lap-Dancing Club Appeal

Local residents have two days left to state their objections to a proposed lap-dancing club on Albert Road, following the Council’s Planning Committee’s decisions against the proposal. Sarah Cheverton reports.

Portsmouth City Council initially refused the proposed application from Mr Paul Ojla (who currently operates lap-dancing clubs Elegance and Wiggle) in September 2014 and a subsequent appeal was denied by the Planning Inspector last year.

Earlier this year, Mr Ojla amended his original application to include a shop instead of a bar on the ground floor of the site of the former Conservative Club, but this was again rejected on the following grounds:

“…the proposed development would have a negative effect on the balance of uses within…Albert Road and Elm Grove”

“…the proposal would be likely to have an adverse effect on the vitality and viability of existing premises within…Albert Road and Elm Grove”

Mr Ojla submitted another appeal, in which he suggests that the Planning Committee’s decision was designed to “frustrate the implementation” of his proposal due to councillors’ opposition to lap-dancing clubs, rather than “for sound planning reasons.”

However, instructions to councillors on the Planning Committee highlighted the local authority’s obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty, including the need for the Council “to have ‘due regard’ to: the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation; remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by persons who share a relevant protected characteristic”, including gender.

Campaigns against lap-dancing clubs in the UK, such as Not Buying It, have highlighted the importance of the Gender Equality Duty for local authorities considering applications for lap-dancing clubs “because of their gendered nature and because of the negative impact that SEVs such as lap dancing clubs have on efforts to promote equality between women and men.”

The Council’s responsibility to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty also formed part of its previous decision to adopt a ‘nil-cap’ policy on lap-dancing clubs and sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) in the city. This policy means that Mr Ojla is not permitted to simply transfer an existing license for one of his clubs to the Albert Road property, even if planning permission were granted.

In the statement submitted by the Council’s Licensing team, it is highlighted that as a result of the SEV policy:

The council…is unlikely to support any new application [for a lap-dancing club] in the city although they must consider each application on merit.

In his appeal submitted in June, Mr Ojla told the Planning Inspector that he believed the Planning Committee decision “was influenced by unrelated factors.” Mr Ojla also stated that as the proposed lap-dancing club is adjacent to existing venue, The Wedgewood Rooms, it should be “considered appropriate to the commercial character of Albert Road at this point.”

A large number of objections from local residents and groups – including Albert Road Traders Association and trade union UNISON’s South East Regional Women’s Committee – were lodged when Mr Ojla first applied for planning permission for the new lap-dancing club, and a petition against the proposed club receiving over 700 signatures was submitted to the Committee.

The proposal also received many statements of support, including from men and women currently working in lap-dancing clubs in the city. Mr Richard Broad works as a door supervisor at a lap-dancing club and submitted a statement of support in which he said he has “less issues with unruly customers than other bars and clubs.” Many other supporting submissions highlighted that “We need more business in Britain and as long it’s legal it should be allowed to flourish.”

Mr Ojla had hoped that, subject to licensing and planning approval, he could move his existing club, Elegance, from its current Granada Road location to Albert Road.

Any additional comments on Mr Ojla’s appeal must be submitted by 27th October 2016 and must be made via the Planning Inspectorate rather than Portsmouth City Council. Anyone wishing to submit additional comments should go to the Planning Inspectorate website, enter the code 3153456 in the box marked ‘Search for a Case’, and click on ‘Make Representation’.

An informal hearing will determine the outcome of the appeal on 29th November 2016 at 10am in the Ground Floor Meeting Room 4, Civic Offices. In the meantime, anyone interested in the application can find all the relevant documentation submitted so far, including submissions from those in favour and against the club at Portsmouth City Council’s website.

As well as being an Ed in Chief at S&C, Sarah Cheverton is also Writer in Residence for Aurora New Dawn, a local charity working with victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and she has previously been involved in campaigns opposing lap-dancing clubs in Portsmouth.