Agenda item

Application for a Sexual Entertainment Venue Licence


 Mr Steven John Burrows



Officer introduction


The Licensing Team Leader introduced the application for the grant of a sexual entertainment licence at Club Covert, 12-14 Bath Road.  The dates and hours are set out in the report, to coincide with The Festival in March 2020.  The application form, site location, and all objections are included in the appendices of the officer’s report.  He confirmed that there has been no objection from the Chief Officer of Police, and two objections had been received from local residents. Mandatory and discretionary grounds for refusal are set out in the report.


One of the objectors stated that Club Covert is not part of Cheltenham’s Night safe scheme, but this is no longer the case, and Eroticats is also an associate member.  The conviction of the alcohol licence holder at Club Covert is not relevant to this application, although Members need to understand the relationship between the two, and to what extent he will be involved with the running of the sexual entertainment venue.  Members may also want to consider its Public Sector Equality Duty when determining this application – guidance is set out a 7.3.3 in the officer report. 


The Licensing Team Leader also reminded Members that while Club Covert currently falls just outside the area in which the council permits the licensing of SEVs, it has previously granted a licence for this location, and they should also note that policy doesn’t fetter discretion.  Every application must be considered on its individual merits and circumstances, but equally Members must not deviate from CBC’s policy without good reason to do so.


Applicant’s address


The applicant was represented by his solicitor, Mr Younis, who made the following comments:


-           this is a new application from Club Covert, to operate at the times set out in the application form, for the Cheltenham Festival in March;

-           the applicant has operated a SEV at The Two Pigs from 2017; he is experienced in the business – an important factor, carrying significant weight;

-           Parliament made it lawful to operate SEVs as part of retail and leisure activity in 2009;

-           there are two grounds for objection – mandatory and statutory – but not moral.  In this case, mandatory grounds can be disregarded.   Regarding discretionary grounds, Club Covert is currently just outside Cheltenham’s permitted area for SEVs, but two previous clubs have been licensed at this location, and on February 11th 2020, Cheltenham Borough Council’s Cabinet will consider a new policy area, which will encompass 12-14 Bath Road;

-           previous decisions would suggest that these premises are deemed suitable for a SEV; it is not in a vicinity frequented by under-18s after 8.00pm, near a place of worship, school or college.  The location should therefore not be a concern here;

-           the fact that the police have not raised any objections or made any comments is of paramount importance, reflecting the view of the suitability of the applicant and the proposed venue.  If the police had any concerns about either, they would have raised them;

-           Club Covert is now a member of the Night Safe scheme, which aims to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour; the applicant attends meetings and is actively involved;

-           Cheltenham’s Purple Flag status recognises its commitment to a safe and vibrant night-time economy, between 5pm and 5am, with transport, pedestrian links, well-lit streets, and an emphasis on safety.  The applicant is keen that the town retains its Purple Flag status;

-           regarding the question of how the applicant can be in charge of two venues at once, if the licence is granted, he will employ James Elias, an experienced manager to work with him.  He has 15 years’ relevant experience, has been the Chair of Night Safe, and was DPS Moomoos and Fever, used to have a SEV at Club Covert and is used to running events in Cheltenham, making him very well-qualified for the role.  Mr Elias will manage the SEV, and Mr Roe will manage the bar;

-           the applicant is hiring the venue for race week only, on a purely commercial basis – the bar and alcohol licence will be managed by Club Covert;

-           13-14 personnel will be employed by the applicant;

-           if granted, suitable agreements will be drawn up to ensure that the applicant o holds the only SEV licences in Cheltenham;

-           Mr Field, mentioned in one of the objections, is not party to this application, and mention of him should be disregarded;

-           Members visited the club on Monday, and the applicant has confirmed that he is happy to address any concerns they have, and abide by any conditions which may put their minds at ease;

-           the number one priority is safety – anyone under the influence of alcohol or restricted substances will be refused entry;

-           the club will use a chip system to pay for dances – no cash will be exchanged;

-           the rooms used for dances will be secure, and CCTV will be used;

-           Club Covert has its own crowd control policy, and there are rails outside to keep customers from spilling onto the road; they will be encouraged to queue at the side of the building, not to the front;

-           Club Covert caters for a high number of people during normal licensing hours, and this is expected to be lower during its use as a SEV;

-           anyone of legal age will be welcome, as long as they are responsible and respectful; if staff feel any guests appear likely to cause problems, they will be refused entry and this will be recorded in an appropriate log.  The Club’s first duty is to the dancers and the guests;

-           there have been two objections to an SEV in this location, but these are subjective and prejudicial and should be disregarded; the club will open from 8.00pm, after local shops have closed, and there is no link between SEVs and brothels as suggested in one letter; it was noted that GRASAC was not in attendance;

-           licensed premises allow control – inspections and conditions which allow the council and authorities to know where this entertainment is taking place; this avoids exploitation;

-           the dancers’ right to work will be checked – they are not coerced, and the majority are known to the applicant;

-           if granted the applicant would be happy to have an anti-bribery and slavery policy if needed.

-           people who are offended or feel their human rights are violated by the club can always walk an alternative route;

-           the changing rooms are secure, refreshments are provided free of charge to the dancers, and members of staff will be on hand;

-           the smoking area is for the dancers only, as it can only be accessed by walking past the booths.  Customers will have to go outside, and there will be a handstamp for re-admission;

-           when leaving the club, there will be a sign asking people to be peaceful and respectful of the neighbours;

-           door staff will know their duties and keep up with cleaning up any mess, monitoring the situation at the end of the night;

-           toilets are going to be reorganised, and female toilets will need to be accessed past the booths; there will be 2-3 security personnel to escort women to the toilets for their own peace of mind;

-           a minibus will be provided at the end of the shift, to drive the dancers to their cars or their accommodation; door staff will walk them to their cars if close at hand;

-           to sum up, the applicant is an experienced licence holder; the police have no concerns and would be present at the meeting if they did; conditions can be addressed and respected; the objections are not sustainable; the applicant is keep to support Cheltenham’s Purple Flag status; the venue is currently outside CBC’s policy area but this is changing next week; the venue has been licensed before; there are no establishments frequented by young people in the vicinity, and it will not open before 8.00pm; the licence gives a degree of control; the applicant will make sure all council policies are adhered to; performers are not coerced;

-           by licensing these premises, the SEV will not be forced underground or behind closed doors, putting the dancers and members of the club in jeopardy, and the council will be allowed a greater degree of control.


Member debate


In response to questions from Members, the applicant and his solicitor confirmed the following:

-           a chip system will be used to pay the dancers, so they will not handle cash during the evening; there will be a cap on how much cash they take away with them at the end of the night; the arrangements for their safety on leaving the club is described above;

-           the applicant will not be involved with any 24-hour SEV licences at other premises in Cheltenham save for the one at the Two Pigs; 

-           when asked whether the applicant would also be looking to open pop-up SEVs elsewhere in Cheltenham, he said it would be difficult to confirm this until the decision re Club Covert has been made tonight;  the Licensing Team Leader confirmed that this is not relevant to the application but helps to give Members an understanding;

-           the applicant attends every Night Safe meeting, and Club Covert is now a member too; radios will be hired;

-           the two venues will be run independently; dancers will not move between the two and will only perform in the venue to which they are assigned;

-           there will be no fliers for this venue or the Two Pigs, or for the Eroticats bus;

-           when Club Covert closes at 4am (due to its alcohol licence), the intention is to minibus customers who want to carry on to the Two Pigs;

-           both the manager of the bar and the manager of the SEV will be on site at all times;

Following the site visit, Members raised the following issues and felt that remedial work would be needed before the SEV opens for business:

-           the performers’ changing rooms – lights should be in working order, no exposed wiring

-           the performers will need water in their area to save them from going up and down the stairs

-           the window in the changing rooms is not particularly secure

-           directional signage for fire exits is needed from the public areas

-           the sliding door to the roof area must be secure; no-one must access the roof area

-           there is concern about the smoking area for patrons – a very small space, with a railing a few feet from the front door

-           how will the queue be managed, and segregated from people going outside to smoke?

-           an alternative fire escape strategy was discussed for the dance areas – how will this be managed?

The applicant and his solicitor confirmed that these concerns can be dealt with quickly before the first date offering SEV.  An alternative fire evacuation can be written, but the distance for people passing through the temporary dance area will be no different from usual.


Member debate


The Chair confirmed that the moral objections cannot be considered here, and that concerns about the DPS are not material. The comments about ‘recruitment opportunities’ are not helpful. The second letter does not provide evidence to back its claims.


If the issues raised on the site visit – lighting, fire exit signage, access to the roof – are dealt with, he is minded to grant the licence, but asked that the regulations are modified to ensure no exchange of details includes electronic communication.  He would like to see a limit on the number of people smoking outside to ensure not too many people are there causing a nuisance. On discretionary grounds, is minded to treat the map and red line as an indicative boundary rather than an absolute on given this seems reasonable as the council is proposing a change to the policy and the distance involved is very small. 


On the site visit, Members heard about the checks on performers, to ensure they are who they say they are, are of age etc.  He is content with this, and subject to conditions sees no reason to object.


A Member expressed concern that the narrow pavement area by the barrier could result in people spilling out onto the road.  He felt it important to ensure a steady flow of people in this area, but there will be clusters of people, and it is important that others are not too intimidated and can actually walk past.  He cannot support limiting the number of smokers, but if a crowd is waiting to get in and smokers are coming out, he is concerned that people will be pinned to the road.


The applicant stated that congestion outside the night club is dealt with on a regular basis, and the queue is managed round the corner.  Smokers returning to the club will be treated as new arrivals and have to wait in line again. There will be a lobby kit to ensure the area is kept clean and tidy.  The Licensing Team Leader suggested that when a two-storey night club operated on the premises, there were always long queues down Vernon Place, but this is not the case – he has never seen long queues outside the Two Pigs.  He cannot see any conflict in managing the queue and the smokers, and the local authority has the power to close the club should it become problematic.


A Member thanked the applicant’s solicitor for his comprehensive explanation, she noted that there are no objections from the police, and the applicant is an experienced operator.  She sympathised with the objectors but did not feel their comments relevant to these establishments.  She said the door staff needed to be mindful of residential properties nearby and respect this, but was otherwise supportive of the application.


The Chair confirmed that the issues raised will be addressed.  He said the council prefers venues with a robust SEV licence rather than properties operating under the exemption.


Right of Reply of Applicant


The applicant’s solicitor confirmed that the applicant wishes to work with the council and will abide by any conditions imposed, having measures in place to adhere to them prior to 10th March to put any doubts in Members’ minds to rest. 


VOTE (unanimous)

Grant the application as applied for subject to the remedial works being undertaken;

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