City acts to bring its lap-dancing clubs into line

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The Independent Online

The commercial ingenuity of Spearmint Rhino, a chain of lap-dancing clubs, has stretched to the provision of 6pm shuttles from City establishments "so that workers can travel in great style".

The commercial ingenuity of Spearmint Rhino, a chain of lap-dancing clubs, has stretched to the provision of 6pm shuttles from City establishments "so that workers can travel in great style".

But the professional classes of England's second city, Birmingham, were expecting fewer delights yesterday after municipal leaders decided it was time to become puritanical about the burgeoning success of what might be described as the Broad Street strip.

Fearing the sleazy image associated with 11 lap-dancing joints (with a 12th on the way) would damage Birmingham's chances of becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2008, the council gave notice of its intention to bring two-minute, £20 intimacies to an end by banning lap and table-dancing under the terms of its new entertainment licences.

A warning of the city's alleged drift towards indecency came earlier this year from the improbable quarter of the nightclub owner Peter Stringfellow. Nothing wrong with naked pole-dancers, he said – "nudity is nice" – but he had "grave concerns" about bringing his Covent Garden Cabaret of Angels establishment to Birmingham because of neighbouring Spearmint's "liberal attitude to sexual contact". Spearmint responded through its PR consultant, Max Clifford. "If there's any evidence of what he is suggesting – anything untoward taking place – then why doesn't he prove it?" said Mr Clifford. "The competition has been getting to him."

Spearmint, whose Californian owner, John Gray, has described British lap-dancing clubs as "a joke", has plans to build 100 establishments in Britain by 2007, in addition to 27 in the United States.

Spearmint announced two weeks ago plans for a bar near the Mersey riverfront, across the road from a proposed architectural centrepiece of Liverpool's rival bid to become the 2008 Capital of Culture.

Sir Bob Scott, the bid campaign's chief executive, said: "I'm not really up to date with this sort of thing, but Liverpool is a grown up city." Spearmint's plans for two "sex multiplexes" with private dance rooms in Glasgow has been debated by the Scottish parliament.

Birmingham council says it is too easy for operators to open by stealth, applying for an entertainment licence without indicating plans for lap or table-dancing. Old restrictions against dancing, described as "licentious, indecent, profane or improper" are open to wild interpretation, it says. The council will lobby the Government for a national law on lap and table-dancing clubs, subjecting them to special controls, as it does for massage parlours. Spearmint's Birmingham manager, Cas Carrington, warned the council not to exclude an essential cultural venue from its 2008 bid. "We are trying to promote ourselves as an international city. We need to have these facilities for people who visit ... from further afield," she said.

But there is evidence that the local clientèle needs municipal protection. When the operators of Ronnie Scott's, in Broad Street, offered an unexpected preview of their proposed lap-dancing show, 90 per cent of the men took flight. "There's no doubt many were unnerved and wanted to get out," said one observer.

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