A councillor went on a site visit of his own to talk to dancers at a Calderdale lapdancing club ahead of a key meeting to decide whether or not to renew its licence.
Coun Colin Peel told colleagues on Calderdale Council’s Licensing and Regulatory Committee he went to the La Salsa club in Silver Street, Halifax, last Saturday evening, unannounced, but asked to talk to the women who danced there, to other employees and to one of the owners.
The club’s owners received their licence for the year last night (Thursday) at the third time of asking – last year members of first granted the licence and then, asked to reconsider by full council, refused to renew it at a second meeting, on grounds the nature of the area around the club had changed and that Mr Reza Shahsavar was not a proper person to hold a licence – both reasons challenged by his legal representatives either on appeal or at the meeting.
Councillors again heard representations objecting to the licence being renewed on the grounds that it was opposite a women’s refuge and close to a church.
Despite the licence refusal decision last December the club has been able to stay open while the licensing process has been fully concluded, the committee heard.
Coun Peel (Con, Brighouse) said back in 2007 all members of the council had been invited to go and see the club for themselves and he had decided to do the same now, touring the premises and seeing CCTV in every room.
“Last Saturday I made an unannounced visit to La Salsa, paying an entrance fee and explained why I was there.
“I talked to staff, to the women and they were free with their information,” said Coun Peel.
“I talked to seven women dancers away from management. they were open and free in their thoughts on the club.
“I spoke to Mr Shahsavar. I left the club at midnight. I did not have a dance.
“I had no preconceived ideas, I want to make that clear.”
He also thanked objectors for making their case and said he had taken their accounts into consideration and understood their arguments about the need to safeguard women and give them a voice.
Later in the meeting Coun Peel said at previous meetings he had taken it on trust the women who worked at the club were safe but he had to doubt that and the only way to find out was to talk to them.
Those he spoke to included a university student paying for her studies.
“All came across as confident, open and free.
“They told me it was the safest club they knew of, rules are strictly applied.
“I asked if they had a point to make to the committee and they said ‘let us earn our income, don’t meddle’,” he said.
He urged campaigners against the club as well as colleagues to find out for themselves as he had done.
Coun Carol Machell (Lab, Todmorden) asked Coun Peel why he felt it appropriate to visit. Committee chair Coun Robert Thornber (Con, Ryburn) said it was up to individual councillors.
Coun Peel said: “I felt I had to go there and talk to these young women to find out if they were trafficked or if they were being oppressed, and learned a lot.”
A general issue of lapdancing clubs using trafficked women had been raised at previous hearings.
Later in the meeting Coun Machell said a recent paper issued by the Women and Politics Committee at the House of Commons referenced women being harassed in the vicinity of sex entertainment venues.
Coun Peel said: “I get the national picture. In talking to the women they told me horror stories about things that happened in other clubs but specifically in this town, this club, they said they weren’t victims, they were happy.”
Coun Pat Allen (Lib Dem, Elland) said: “It’s not like planning committee – site visits are not done.”
Before debating the application again, councillors were told by officers that under licensing rules a decision could not be made on moral grounds and had to be in line with the council’s licensing policy for sex establishments.
Following an appeal by La Salsa’s owners to Magistrates Court and a letter of claim to the council following the last refusal, it has been agreed councillors should consider the matter again.
Key to the application was West Yorkshire Police not registering any objections to the proposal, councillors heard.
Coun Machell asked a number of questions relating to newspaper reports in the Asian Times and Huddersfield Examiner in 2010, written about premises La Salsa’s owners had in Huddersfield, reporting its closure and revocation of licence following a police raid.
She argued that made Mr Shahsavar’s suitability for being granted a licence a matter of concern but the council’s Head of Legal and Democratic Services, Ian Hughes, said West Yorkshire
Police had not raised any issues of concern and councillors were obliged to take that into account.
Among objectors to the licence were the White Ribbon Campaign – a Calderdale based worldwide charity aiming to end male violence against women – and WomenCentre, the refuge opposite the club.
An objector to the application raised the issue of the press stories and what had been reported about the incident in Huddersfield but Coun Thornber said the committee could not discuss what had happened in another authority.
Coun Machell said she found that absolutely incredible. “We verified that by asking him ‘have you ever had a licence revoked by another authority in West Yorkshire’. If you are considering whether anyone is suitable for a licence it’s absolutely relevant,” she said.
Judy Gannon, a volunteer at WomenCentre, said it had been there more than 30 years and women at the centre, some with their children, felt intimidated having to walk past naked sillouhettes on the club’s exterior. The centre also housed a creche for children.
But Mr Shahsavar’s legal representative said both reasons given for refusing the licence last time were not substantiated when tested.
He said he did not speak to the press who often sensationalised what he said and urged councillors to treat newspaper stories with caution.
He outlined the history of the club’s licence, which was first granted in 2003 and argued the women’s centre and Ebenezer church were both there at that time, so the character of the area had not changed over the period when a licence had been granted and renewals obtained without issue.
It was a personal licence for which there was a high threshold to satisfy before one was granted.
“That has been an assessment of my client and at each stage he was deemed fit to hold a licence by you,” said the representative.
Regarding events at Huddersfield referred to, his client had the authorisation to run the club in his name but it was being run by someone else.
When the police incident happened he had decided to walk away from the premises, with Kirklees Council automatically revoking the licence.
In formulating its licensing policy for sex entertainment premises – which was approved last year – the council could have set a “zero” policy but did not, allowing for one such premises.
“It would be wrong and unfair to refuse this renewal,” he said.
Councillors voted 4-2, with two abstentions, to renew the licence.