VILLAGE residents, angered by a plan to open a sex shop on the outskirts of the settlement, will voice their hostility at a public meeting next week.

A PROPOSED sex shop in a north-west Huntingdonshire village would not only create local jobs but would be a modern, spacious and female-friendly atmosphere for couples to shop together, the company proposing it said this week.

But Sawtry residents, angered by a plan to open a sex shop on the outskirts of the settlement, will voice their hostility to the idea at a public meeting next week.

Rotherham-based Cocktails Limited, which already owns 23 sex-shops, mostly in northern England, has asked Huntingdonshire District Council to let it re-open the premises - the former Little Chef, just off the A1(M) in Toll Bar Way - to sell 'marital aids'.

The firm stresses that the Sawtry outlet would be outside the main village.

Director Clair Boothby added: "Our target customers are couples, and our stores are specially designed to create a modern, spacious and female-friendly atmosphere for couples to shop together.

"We require a licence at all of our stores to enable us to stock and sell a good range and variety of marital aids and lingerie to our customers."

She said the company had opened a similar store in a former McDonalds restaurant next to the southbound A1 near Grantham. "The location and appearance of this store is almost identical," she added.

"The premises have been derelict for a number of years and our intentions are to invest in the refurbishment of the premises to improve its general appearance and transform it into a modern, retail outlet.

"This shop will create five retail Jobs, in addition to the jobs created locally for the renovation of the derelict premises," she promised.

Although he cannot be at the meeting in Sawtry next Wednesday, MP Shailesh Vara is fully behind those residents who say councillors should adopt a policy of allowing such establishments nowhere in the district.

Former Cambridgeshire County Council leader Keith Walters, who lives in the village, is urging HDC to adopt a policy of zero sex shops in the district or to limit itself to just one.

"It could be located either in Huntingdon (as the 'capital' of the district) or St Neots (which thinks it ought to be)," he suggested.

Mr Vara agrees. "It's bad enough that HDC doesn't have a policy on zero sex establishments in the first place. It is worse still that [the council] is now saying it is not going to come up with a policy decision now that an application has been made.

"What HDC should do is use the application as a reason to come up with the policy.

"This is a huge firestorm in Sawtry, and I've had a huge postbag from a lot of angry people," he added.

Yet there is nothing new about a sex shop on the site, according to one Huntingdonshire councillor (though HDC denies this).

Councillor Bob Farrer, a member of Cambridgeshire County Council and HDC, says it was a sex shop when it was first built in 1982/83, and the adjacent motel, which later became a Travelodge, also had a dubious reputation.

Cllr Farrer told The Hunts Post that he had worked for the firm that built the premises. "It was a sex shop then, and the Americans [service personnel from RAF Alconbury] were in there from dawn till dusk.

"The hotel manager boasted that he had 100 per cent occupancy for his rooms every day - mostly during the daytime."

He added: "I don't see any problem with having a sex shop there. It's well outside the village."

HDC's view of the site's planning history was at odds with Cllr Farrer's. "Permission for the Little Chef building was granted in 1987 - as a Little Chef," a spokesman said.

But residents are expected to disagree overwhelmingly with Cllr Farrer when they meet next Wednesday, at the parish council's behest, to debate the future of the site.

INFORMATION: The residents' meeting will be held at Sawtry Community College on Wednesday, August 25, starting at 7pm.