Sawtry sex shop gets go-ahead

There will be a sex shop in Sawtry - despite an unprecedented level of opposition.

THERE will be a sex shop in Sawtry - despite an unprecedented level of opposition.

Huntingdonshire District Council’s licensing sub-group decided on Thursday to grant a licence to Rotherham-based Cocktails Limited until March 2012.

Sawtry Parish Council barrister James Rankin had earlier told the hearing that the level of objection to a proposed sex shop in Sawtry was unprecedented in 27 years of dealing with licence applications.

He urged the refusal of the licence, saying: “You have a God-fearing community with three schools, you have a population 25 per cent of which is under 19, you have premises that has exposure to those who ramble past, walk past roller-blade past.

“The site cannot be taken in isolation. There’s a rich heritage about this village that is keenly felt, and they feel it entirely inappropriate to site a sex-shop there.

But Richard Barca, for the applicant, argued that, if the licence were granted, residents would find that all their fears would be proved groundless.

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Earlier, Cocktails director Graham Kidd had explained that the company, founded in 1997, now had more than 20 stores between Newcastle and Hitchin, employing 66 people, most of them female. Its target market was couples and women.

“It’s where people come for hen nights and to buy their Secret Santa presents,” he claimed.

He promised a discreet establishment for mature adults, out of sight and constantly monitored to ensure no one under 18 gained entry.

“It’s virtually unheard of for children to try to get into an adult shop,” he told the hearing at the Burgess Hall in St Ives, which was attended by about 100 Sawtry residents.

“It’s not young people who are attracted into our stores. I wish we had a way of attracting the under 25s. The average age of customers is 30 to 50.”

Mr Kidd said the former Little Chef was falling rapidly into a state of disrepair, with parts “disappearing by the week” after lying vacant for three or four years.

He said a store in a similar village, Saxelby, off the A57 in Lincolnshire, had attracted objections from a group of residents led by a councillor, magistrate and minister of religion, who had subsequently written to say that his objections had proved unfounded and that ‘the adult store had become a good neighbour to the village’.

Mr Kidd said he could have opened in Sawtry without a licence but preferred to have the backing of the local authority for each of the company’s shops.

But pressed by Mr Rankin to say whether he would still open in the village if the application were removed, he was non-committal.

Mr Rankin pointed out that the lease was not yet signed and that Mr Kidd needed the licence to generate 60 per cent of the projected �200,000 a year sales.

“This gun he is holding to your head unloaded,” the barrister told the panel.

The councillors heard objections from a series of villagers, including former Cambridgeshire County Council leader Keith Walters, the village Rector, Canon Peter Griffith, parish council chairman Alan Morris, and Rosalind Young, a registered mental health nurse who specialises in counselling adults who were abused as children.

Her clients would stop coming to sex-shop Sawtry if the application were allowed, she said. “I have asked them, and they would find it very difficult to consider Sawtry a safe village if there were a sex shop selling sexual and pornographic materials,” she said.

Many objectors described Sawtry’s community spirit, which Canon Griffith said was “quite exceptional” in his experience.

“More than 500 objections, a 1,100-signature petition [against the proposal] and the people you see here today are telling you the character of the location is going to be affected,” villager James Gillespie told the panel.