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By Tim Williams
Oxford City Council has outlined plans to exercise its new powers over sex shops and lap dancing clubs by capping their number.
At a council meeting on Wednesday night councillors debated whether to kick-start a consultation process, which would culminate with a final decision in April 2012. The policy document recommended the committee “consider whether or not to set a limit on the “appropriate” number of sex establishments”.
The council last year used its powers to move Thirst Lodge from behind the Westgate shopping centre because it was deemed too close to shops, churches and tourist attractions. The lap dancing club, however, reopened at the former Coven nightclub on Oxpens Road.
Previously, the council only had the power to refuse licenses based on location. The new laws recently inherited mean they can now refuse licenses based on there being too many sex establishments in the city.
Labour council leader Bob Price backed a cap and told the Oxford Mail: “If you took it to the limit, you would have a city centre that looked a bit like the Reeperbahn in Hamburg and Soho.
“It would not be the kind of Oxford that would be particularly attractive to tourists, maybe not all tourists, but not the right type.”
However, the council’s policy document states: “The council is not permitted to take a moral stand with regard to licensing sex establishments”. Consequently, second year law student Charlotte Tarr was left bemused by the policy: “There are already so many rules on what sex shops can display, I don’t see any reason why they need to be capped. It’s discriminatory, and I can’t see any justification.”
She continued: “It is foolish to think that in the 21st Century people don’t go into these shops- there is demand for these establishments. Simply capping them doesn’t get to the root of the problem- instead, it creates a dangerous environment where sex becomes a taboo subject.”
Tarr concluded: “It is an outrage.” While Pembroke student Hamish Smith concurred, describing the council’s moves as a “disgrace”, second year Wadham student James Sadler emphasized that such a cap would be “obviously tragic for the local economy”.
Nevertheless, English student Alex Fisher described the changes as “a good thing”: “sex establishments are generally negatively viewed- capping them can only result in Oxford having a cleaner reputation”.
St Ebbe’s Church was “relieved” when Thirst Lodge was moved from next to their building earlier this year and has campaigned against sex establishments in the past. However, the church declined to comment on the council’s latest decision.
At present, the council has not specified what number of establishments it has in mind to cap. The term “sex establishments” officially applies to sex shops, sex cinemas and sexual entertainment venues.