Sawtry sex shop licence renewed in spite of protests

SAWTRY’S sex shop licence was renewed for another year yesterday in the face of renewed demands from some residents that breaches of conditions imposed 18 months ago meant it should be revoked.

But Graham Kidd, managing director of Cocktails Limited, which has operated the store since it opened last August, said after the hearing at Huntingdonshire District Council that a number of the original objectors had admitted to the staff that their fears had proved groundless.

The licence was originally granted in December 2010, but it took nine months for Cocktails to get the necessary planning consents for the former Little Chef building in Toll Bar Way and to get the dilapidated building into a fit state to open.

The hearing yesterday (Tuesday) was into renewal of the sex shop licence and applications to vary some of the conditions imposed 18 months ago.

Licensing manager Christine Allison told the council’s licensing and protection applications sub-group that it should take into account comments from the police as well as letters and e-mails from 16 individuals.

Mr Kidd said none of the objections related to the way the business had been conducted.

The police had drawn attention to a breach of a condition that no food and drink should be consumed on the premises other than by staff in areas not accessible to the public.

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Mr Kidd sought a variation of that condition, saying it was technically impossible to comply without denying the staff the chance to eat or drink during their shifts. It was not possible to get from the private kitchen, where refreshments were prepared, to the private restroom where they were consumed without passing through part of the public area.

Most of the objections concerned alleged breaches of conditions relating to screening the premises from view through maintenance of conifer hedges, new planting and the erection of new fencing, and to signage.

Objectors said the premises had been made more visible. Mr Kidd said he had actually done more than the conditions required, although neighbours had removed trees and fencing from neighbouring land over which Cocktails had no control.

“We are now completely either hedged or fenced off,” he told the four-councillor panel.

He added that all signs at the site had planning consent, apart from a temporary banner erected when the shop eventually opened to say that it had started trading.

He said the objections had been “canvassed on the basis of misinformation and untruths”, though the perception that the site was now more visible might have been a function of bringing an unlit derelict site back into use.

Councillor Dick Tuplin said a canvass of retail outlets in the village suggested that only the post office had been asked for directions to the shop, contrary to the applicants’ assertions that it needed better signage to avoid the embarrassment of asking directions or being asked.

And Cllr Darren Tysoe insisted that the objectors were “not a few nimbys but an overwhelming cross-section of the village … fighting to protect their way of life”. At the original hearing, a petition with over 1,000 signatures, hundreds of letters and a full public gallery had been ignored by the panel, he contended.

Keith Walters, a former county council leader who resigned from the Conservative Party over the issue, said objectors had been treated with total disdain.

Granting the renewal, panel chairman Cllr John Davies said the group had heard the application as a quasi-judicial, non-political decision-making body. It also varied a condition requiring enhanced CRB checks after the bureau refused to carry them out – a condition HDC lawyer Vicki Stevens told the panel was unworkable and unenforceable.

After the hearing, a delighted Mr Kidd said he had been pleased that the members of the group had taken the trouble to make a site visit.

He added: “We don’t want to upset people in the village, and we make a point of using local traders. A number of the people who objected originally have told us they have changed their minds.”

HDC’s executive leader told The Hunts Post yesterday that he had heard no complaints about the way the business had been conducted, although he had spent a lot of time listening to objectors.

“This is not a political issue: it’s a matter of legality. It’s a legitimate business that wants to be licensed and can be. The moral objections don’t have any weight in law.”