Council admits it got equality law wrong when granting licence

Sheffield City Council has acknowledged in court proceedings that it failed to meet its statutory duty to consider the impact on women’s equality when granting a new licence to Spearmint Rhino last May.

The judicial review of Sheffield City Council’s decision to renew Spearmint Rhino’s sexual entertainment venue licence in May 2016, was the first of its kind.

There were 71 objections many of which highlighted the impact of sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) on gender equality and made reference to the Council’s obligations to the Public Sector Equality Duty.

The Council made no reference to the Public Sector Equality Duty in its determination notice or minutes. The numerous concerns raised about the impact of such venues on gender equality were dismissed as “moral objections.”

However, Mrs Justice Jefford made the following observations in the permission order allowing the judicial review to go ahead:

“There is no direct evidence that the Defendant [Sheffield City council] has had due regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty (as it is required to do under s.149 of the Equality Act 2010). The decision gives no indication that it has been considered.”


“Further, there is a tenable basis for the Claimant’s inference that the Defendant has wrongly ignored objections based on the potential impact on gender equality, treating them as moral objections and irrelevant.”

The judicial review was due to be heard on 9th and 10th May 2017.  However, the Claimant (who wishes to remain anonymous) and the Council have agreed to settle the case on the basis that the Council acknowledges that it “failed to comply with the public sector equality duty when making its decision on 16th May 2016.”

Zero Option has supported the Claimant throughout this process and welcomes this settlement and the Council’s acknowledgement.  It is hoped that this will raise awareness of the need for public bodies to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty when making decisions; they must consider any negative impacts on gender equality as to fail to do so is unlawful.

The Claimant is represented by Louise Whitfield of Deighton Pierce Glynn and Karon Monaghan QC of Matrix Chambers.

Louise Whitfield says:

“This is an important victory for my client and many others who are very concerned about the harmful impact of sex entertainment venues on women. The Council now accepts that they were wrong to ignore the concerns raised about the sexual objectification of women, and to dismiss these as ‘moral objections’.  It is now clear that a local authority considering any such licence applications must look long and hard at the adverse impact on gender equality of letting such an enterprise exist at all. Otherwise it will be acting unlawfully and will be subject to legal challenge.”


Zero Option is deeply concerned that once again Sheffield Council has granted a licence to Spearmint Rhino, a lap dancing and strip club. This is in the face of mounting opposition from Sheffield citizens, local businesses, a Sheffield MP, a Councillor, 2 White Ribbon campaign speakers, Sheffield Hallam University and local services supporting vulnerable young people under 18, vulnerable adults and women.

97 objections were sent to the Council and 20 people spoke at the Licensing Hearing, explaining why such a venue is not appropriate in the heart of the Cultural Industries Quarter and Knowledge Gateway which is about to undergo a period of refurbishment and redevelopment, including a massive expansion of the Site Gallery and provision of further residential accommodation, further changing the character of the area. Council plans for the area aim to attract tourists and local families to use the amenities. This further renders the location unsuitable fo


Zero Option’s representation at the Spearmint Rhino Licence Renewal Hearing – 11th April 2017

This is the full text of Zero Option’s representation at Spearmint Rhino’s SEV licence renewal hearing on 11th April 2017.  Unfortunately, due to time constraints we were unable to read it in full.


I am here speaking not only on behalf of Zero Option but also on behalf of a number of individuals (and one organisation) who have objected and who cannot be here, bearing in mind that this is the school holidays and many are away.  I am also speaking on behalf of a number who have objected but who do not wish to speak. Being here to speak to management and legal representation of the club about one’s vulnerabilities and experiences exacerbates one’s sense of vulnerability and disempowerment and is a daunting experience.

I am sure that I need not remind Committee members that as Mr Kolvin, who is present here today, writes in his book, Sex Licensing, published in 2010:

“Given that that there is potential for the discretion to be exercised afresh, the renewal should not just be a rubber stamping exercise, but an opportunity, if needed, to review the principle and content of the licence.” (p.90)

We argue that a review of the principle and existence of the licence is very much needed and is long overdue. As many have pointed out in previous and current objections, the CIQ has undergone a huge regeneration since Spearmint Rhino first began its operation here in Sheffield. Furthermore, the area is still developing, which I will come to shortly.
In 2012, when the club first applied for an SEV licence under what was then a new regime, there were 56 objections, many from local businesses. Continue reading “Zero Option’s representation at the Spearmint Rhino Licence Renewal Hearing – 11th April 2017”

Template objection letter to Sheffield Licensing regarding Spearmint Rhino’s Licence Renewal

Spearmint Rhino has submitted an application for its sexual entertainment venue licence renewal:


For the opening times of Monday to Sunday 00:00 to 00:00

The deadline for objections is midnight 22nd March.  We advise you to email your objections to:


The following is a template letter for you to use.  Please feel free to adapt it as you wish, however, your objections need to based on the grounds listed in the letter. You also need to add your name and address, although these details should be redacted when your objection is sent to the applicant and shared on the Council’s website.

Please also add any impacts that this venue has to your particular circumstances, especially if you are a local business and/or resident.




Licensing Service
Block C, Staniforth Road Depot
Staniforth Road
Surrey Street
S9 3HD

Insert date

Dear Licensing

I refer to the application for a sexual entertainment venue licence by Spearmint Rhino, 60 Brown Street, Sheffield. S1 2BS.

This is an objection letter to the application for this licence and I call for the council to refuse it.

I believe that the Council should refuse the licence application under the Discretionary Grounds for Refusal of the current Sheffield City Council’s Sexual Entertainment Venues Licensing Policy on the following grounds:

The Public Sector Equality Duty and Gender Equality

Sheffield City Council has “statutory obligations in relation to disability race and gender” ensuring that these factors are not used to discriminate against anyone.  I believe that a sexual entertainment venue directly discriminates against women by normalising the sexualisation and objectification of women, and that this contributes to their sexualisation and objectification in other areas of society.  The Council has a fundamental and non-delegable role to give due regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty, including tackling gender inequality.  This applies notwithstanding the fact that Parliament has legislated to allow the possibility for SEVs to be licensed in specific areas – subject to the choices of the local communities.   Many women have voiced their concerns and fears about the presence of Spearmint Rhino in previous objections.

When walking around this area, which as a Council you encourage people to do due to the other businesses and services in the area, women feel nervous because of the SEV and have to change their behaviour because of it being there, for example having to look around to see if there are people coming out of the SEV, take a different route walking to the centre of town so that they do not have to go past the SEV. Women should not have to feel like this in their city and this is discriminatory.

As Philip Kolvin (2010) cites the Royal Town Planning Institute’s Gender and Spatial Planning Good Practice Note:

In relation to the 24-hour economy policy, ensure that the views of women are considered.  Evidence shows that in certain locations, lap-dancing and exotic dancing club make women feel threatened or uncomfortable’[1]

Kolvin continues with:

‘If a woman, whether objectively justified or not, fears to use part of the town centre characterised by sex establishments, this may be argued to amount to discrimination, in that her access to the public infrastructure of the town is impaired in comparison to that of men.  Where relevant these considerations ought properly to be taken into account by authorities at the decision-making stage, and possibly at the policy-making stage[2].

This is further corroborated by 2012 research published in Criminal Justice Matters which states that:

‘. . . the women describe feeling frightened, disempowered, violated, embarrassed, unsafe (particularly if men are around) and avoid certain streets at night where they know there is a lap dancing club.’[3]


In its current policy, the Council states:

“Whilst the Council has not imposed a numerical limit on the number of premises that may be licensed in any area, and whilst it will treat each application upon its own merits, the Council will not licence premises that it feels are in close proximity to:-

a) a school, nursery or other premises substantially used by or for children under 16 years of age;

There are many educational establishments in the vicinity and Brown Street is also an access route to the Sheffield College Granville Road campus and UTC.  It is in close proximity to Freeman College which provides education for students (16 – 25) who have a range of complex learning, mental health and behavioural needs.

The Club is also in the centre of the newly designated “knowledge gateway”.

b) a park or other recreational area used by or for children under 16 years of age;

There is the much underused recreational space (formerly known as Festival Square but now named as Cultural Industries Quarter Square on the map of the area which can be found on Sheaf Square) directly adjacent to the club.  The Club’s presence deters many from using that space to its full potential.

c) a church or other place of religious worship;

Christ Church Central operates from the Workstation and runs a weekly service.

d) a Hospital, Mental Incapacity or Disability Centre or similar premises;

There are a number of charities and organisations in the area which support vulnerable children and adults, some of which cannot be named because of their confidential addresses. However, we are aware that the Council knows which organisations we are referring to

e) the Cultural Hub of the City (i.e. close to the Peace Gardens and Tudor Square etc.); and/or

f) a central gateway to the city or other city landmark, historic building or tourist attraction.

It is directly opposite the Showroom cinema which hosts family events.  It is also opposite the Site Gallery which is undergoing a huge expansion.  Spearmint Rhino is also centrally located in terms of proximity to a number of national and international events locations, as well as a direct access route, for example: Doc Fest; the children’s media conference; Off the Shelf etc.

There are young students surrounding the area. The Club is next to Sheffield Hallam Students Union and directly backs onto student accommodation.

Additional grounds for refusal

This image of a high-end establishment portrayed by this SEV goes in some way to normalising this type of venue in a very active part of the city, and as such giving the impression that Sheffield as a city condones both the sexualisation and objectification of women, which is in complete contradiction to the Council’s equality policies.  The Spearmint Rhino logo is internationally recognised and is synonymous with stripping and the sexual availability and objectification of women.  Renewing a licence would be contradictory to other work that the Council does, funds and promotes. Has the Council for example, as per its own policy, carried out an Equality Impact Assessment?

A sexual entertainment venue in the heart of the city, or anywhere in the city, is simply completely contradictory to everything that the council says it stands for, everything that the council should stand for, and has a duty to work towards.

I will fully and actively support the Council in the face of any challenge to the council by giving a refusal.

The Council is asked to note that in the last few years Leeds City Council successfully defended a refusal to renew two SEV licenses at judicial review:

R (Bean Trading A Ltd) v Leeds City Council  (2014)

It was held that a council can “take a fresh look” despite no changes to the character of locality.  The Council is also asked to note the following from Philip Kolvin regarding licence renewal:

‘Given that there is potential for the discretion to be exercised afresh, the renewal should not just be a rubber stamping exercise, but an opportunity, if needed, to review the principle and content of the license.[4]

The case of Thompson v Oxford City Council (2014) was also supported at court of appeal, and the Council told they could “take a fresh look” at any application for renewal.

If the panel feel that they cannot make a refusal decision without further discussion, I would ask that a hearing is held so that the application can be discussed in more detail.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Insert name and address

[1] Kolvin, P (2010) Sex Licensing, The Institute of Licensing p.87

[2] Patiniotis, J. & Standing, K. (2012) ‘License to cause harm? Sex entertainment venues and women’s sense of safety in inner city centres’ in Criminal Justice Matters, 88:1, 10-12.

[3] Kolvin, P (2010) Sex Licensing, The Institute of Licensing p.87

[4] p. 90


Experiences of lapdancing: former dancers speak

Part of our representation to the Villa Mercedes License Committee hearing on 8th September was to present a counter-narrative to the commonly held view that lap dancing is well paid. Nor does it foster good relations between the sexes. In fact, it does the the absolute reverse.

Here is an excerpt from a Guardian piece written in 2009.  Although the article is 7 years old, the dancer’s experiences are still relevant:

Lucy began lap dancing when she lost her job as an office temp. It was quite simple: she needed to pay her rent. “It felt like a desperate decision,” she says. “It was a case of: I can’t do anything else. But also I’d fallen for the myth that lap dancing is a good way of making a lot of money very quickly.” She applied for, and got, a job as a dancer in a supposedly upmarket club. At the end of her first night’s work, however, she went home having earned nothing at all. More alarmingly, she now owed the club some £80. Like the vast majority of lap dancers in the UK, Lucy was self-employed. Not only was she required to pay the club a dance fee every time she wanted to work, a sum that could vary from £10 to £80 (Friday nights were most expensive, because they were most popular with customers), but she also had to give the club commission on every dance performed (nude dances cost punters £20, of which she kept £17.50; on slow nights, she might perform only once or twice, or not at all). And then there were the fines. “You got fined for everything, at £20 a time: if you were late, if you were wearing the wrong shoes or dress, if you failed to dance on the pole twice an hour. There was also a fine if you were caught breaking the 3ft rule [licensing laws require dancers to stay 3ft away from customers] – though strangely, that one they never seemed to enforce.”

Lucy lasted for six months. “It was very hard to make money: it was like having a very competitive sales job. They’d filled the shop with loads of the same thing – us, the dancers – and then there’d be only five customers. It wasn’t just that we cost them nothing; the more of us there were, the more they made, even if the place was empty. At the end of the night – 2am or whatever – you’d need to take a taxi home, of course. But you’d have to pay for that, too, so I often ended up walking. No one is looking out for you, whatever the clubs say. You’re on your own.”

Continue reading “Experiences of lapdancing: former dancers speak”

Statement regarding the Villa Mercedes licence hearing outcome

Zero Option is very relieved that the applicant of the Villa Mercedes sexual entertainment venue (SEV) licence was sensitive enough to the weight of objections to the proposed venue that he decided to withdraw his application.  This is excellent for the city as a whole and especially for those organisations, businesses and residents in the immediate vicinity for whom this SEV would have had a detrimental and negative impact.

SEVs are harmful and have a negative impact on gender equality wherever they are located.  However, some locations are more problematic than others and this was one such case.

Zero Option made a representation at the hearing on 8th September and also presented slides.  These can be viewed here.

The hearing was a very positive experience as a diverse range of Sheffield people came together to oppose this application.  There were many passionate, eloquent and well informed speeches.  We are proud to have been a part of it.





Objection to Villa Mercedes planning application to be submitted alongside objections to the SEV Licence

This is our letter of objection, the deadline for which is Thursday September 15th.  We urge anyone who has objected to the sexual entertainment venue licence and anyone who hasn’t, but opposes this venue, to use this as a template letter and email it to:



Mr Matthew Ridge
Planning Officer
Sheffield City Council
Planning, Transport and Highways
1, Howden House, Union Street,
Sheffield S1 2SH

4th September 2016


Dear Mr Ridge

Change of use from existing Drinking Establishment (Use Class A4) to Adult Entertainment Venue (Sui Generis): The Stockroom, 4 Suffolk Road, Sheffield, S2 4AG

Please find below grounds for objecting to the change of use of Existing Drinking Establishment (Use Class A4) to Adult Entertainment Venue (Sui Generis): The Stockroom, 4 Suffolk Road, Sheffield, S2 4AG.

1) An SEV will change the appearance of the area and the character of the street (Suffolk Road and Leadmill Road where the entrance will be located). It will also impact on the quality of the environment.

Leadmill Road and Suffolk Road are actively frequented by young people, many below the age of 18. Children from UTC and All Saints High School pass the building in question on their way to and from school.  There is also a Freeman College site on the same road which serves young people with a variety of special educational needs.

The Subway sandwich bar also state that the majority of their customers are school aged children.

Many tenants of Scotia Works, also known as the Centre for Learning, Development and Citizenship, hold periodic or regular events for young people (with or without family members or teachers present). Their entrance is on Leadmill Road, directly adjacent to to proposed SEV.  As such, we are aware that head teachers and chairs of governors have already expressed their concerns to the Licensing Department.

The Showroom and Leadmill are part of the thriving  Cultural Industries Quarter (CIQ) recognised by Core Strategy 17 as a key growth cluster for the creative and digital industries. As a key player in the CIQ, The Leadmill club organises regular (100 per year) evening youth (14+) events.

However tightly Villa Mercedes seek to manage their activities inside the venue, they cannot control their customers (or dancers) once they leave the premises, nor prospective customers who may be attracted to the venue out of opening hours who go to inspect it out of curiosity, not least due to the amount of local publicity.

We argue that allowing an SEV in this area is likely to contravene section 4 of The Licensing Act 2003 with regard failure in ‘The protection of children from harm’. Heightened awareness of issues of child sexual exploitation locally, following the Jay Report, is likely to make those responsible for the well-being of children and young people particularly sensitive to the potential behaviour of adults around an SEV.  We are also concerned about the messages that these types of venues promote to impressionable young people who are navigating their way through a hyper-sexualised culture and its inherent harms.

Core Strategy 20 recognises how much the two universities have invested in the public realm and have contributed to the knowledge economy, this is particularly the case for Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) in the CIQ area.  The area is designated to be the “knowledge gateway” which is incompatible with one SEV (the existing Spearmint Rhino), never mind two unless the Council plans on this area being known as a “carnal knowledge” gateway.  Given the recent breaches in licence to the Harrogate Villa Mercedes, this venue is also more than likely to attract men who are seeking to pay for sexual contact.

Another aspect of the character of the area where the proposed SEV is to be located is the high number of young students (18+) who walk along Leadmill Road each day past the entrance to the proposed SEV on their way to their flats at Leadmill Point. A further large complex of student flats is currently being completed on Suffolk Road across the road which will be opposite the proposed SEV.  Many of these students are away from home for the very first time, are female and a very high number are from overseas.

Education students from SHU also come down Charles Street, Grinders Hill, Shoreham Street to Leadmill Road to take part in Scotia Works organisations’activities.  It is bad enough that they are likely to have to pass by Spearmint Rhino on Brown Street. This would unalterably impact the character of the area and the quality of the environment and also potentially contravene Unitary Development Plan, 1, LR2 by undermining ‘the vitality and viability of the evening economy of the City Centre.’

Core Strategy 54 aims to promote pedestrian routes and following the Heart of The City developments and the improved gateway into the city from the main railway station (five minutes walk from the site of the proposed SEV). As a result many visitors to the city will turn left at the top of the water cascades outside the station to visit the Showroom, Leadmill, other venues, Sheffield College, student or residential accommodation etc. Many visitors to the city by car will pass along Suffolk Road (a ‘Gold Route’) directly past the proposed SEV.   Considering the amount of investment in the Heart of the City and the station, Objective One funding for Scotia Works, private investment in student accommodation etc., a prominent venue for sexual entertainment at this gateway into the city is not in keeping with the intended welcoming, safe and young character of the area.

2) People’s privacy

There are residential properties in the vicinity of the proposed SEV. In addition to the Unite Student accommodation at Leadmill Point almost immediately opposite the entrance of the venue, Columbia Works, which also faces Leadmill Road and Suffolk Road, has approximately 70 flats; Leadmill Court on Leadmill Street has over 80; Liberty Works and others add to this number. There are a number of young families now living at Columbia Place and Leadmill Court. Whilst such residents may be used to music events at The Leadmill which was established long before their accommodation was built, opening this type of venue on the same street will increase the potential noise, traffic and general night time activity in the area as well as attract men and stag parties who by virtue of a monetary transaction and the nature of these venues believe in their sense of male sexual entitlement. The nature of the activity is particularly unsuited to the privacy of young families.

Some workers based in Scotia Works work evenings.  The City Centre Living update (Dec 2015) Night-Time Uses Guideline 2: City Centre and Neighbours states that ‘Leisure, and Food and Drink uses will be allowed if: (a) conditions for nearby residents and people working in the area will not be harmed by noise breakout, … street noise, or general disturbance’.  We know that tenants have concerns because the SEV plans indicate the use of dancing ‘booths’ on the first floor.  Loud first floor music, without acoustically treated means of ventilation, at the proposed SEV could directly affect late night workers.

3) Safety of all road users

Because of its prominent, visible location, and the nature of the Granville Road Gyratory System, some of the potential SEV customers/staff/dancers are likely to be dropped off or picked up on the busy Suffolk Road because of its obvious proximity to the venue, rather than the longer more complicated route to a safer drop off point on Leadmill Road. This could lead to traffic congestion, road rage and potentially accidents on Suffolk Road.

4) Employment, local economy

The Equality Impact Assessment Notes provided in the Licensing Sub-Committee report goes some way to argue how this SEV  will create flexible working opportunities for the dancers. Firstly, we would urge you to watch this video and read some former dancers’ testimonies in this book which not only challenges the “easy money” myth but highlights how damaging this form of work is.  Dancers are not direct employees, they have no workers’ rights.  They have to pay an upfront house fee, a percentage of what they earn back to the club and are subject to fines.

Secondly, any argument about employment opportunities needs to be offset against impacts on the local economy including other employment prospects elsewhere in the immediate locality. This includes charities at Scotia Works who risk losing clients and funding and would feel obliged to relocate, UNITE and the owners of other accommodation or offices who risk losing tenants or profit and feel obliged to reduce staffing.

The Ethical Property Company who have owned the lease on Scotia Works since 2003 have struggled in recent years to find tenants because of the 2008 recession and local authority cuts to the voluntary sector. There has been a slight recovery over the past two years but this is fragile and some of the tenants and their vulnerable clients will be adversely affected by the change in use of the former Stockroom to an SEV. This can be verified by the recent user survey carried out for the License Committee (SEV Questionnaire, 2/9/16).

In conclusion, we argue that no amount of further conditions or restrictions on the opening hours etc on the proposed SEV would alter the fact that this change of use is very likely to change the character and impact the quality of life of the immediate area because of the number of under 18 year olds who use it on a daily basis and the sensitive nature of a number of third sector organisations in the immediate vicinity.

We also recommend that you read this.

Yours sincerely


Zero Option