Councillors defy police to grant sauna licences

Councillors are meeting to decide the fate of Edinburgh's saunas. Pic: Toby Williams.
Councillors are meeting to decide the fate of Edinburgh's saunas. Pic: Toby Williams.
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Licensing chiefs have snubbed police advice on the closure of city saunas and allowed more than half of the city’s establishments to continue trading.

Police Scotland had lodged objections against ten of the 13 saunas up for their annual licence renewal, but councillors gave approval on seven of them, saying each business was reviewed on “its individual merits”.

Comment: ‘Switches in policing must be debated’

It is understood that of the other six, three have been ordered to make changes to their signage, while the others had their renewal bids rejected outright.

Sauna bosses pleaded their cases in front of councillors and police representatives in a meeting which lasted more than five hours at the City Chambers yesterday.

Licences were renewed for Carol’s Sauna on Easter Road, London Street Sauna, Ambassador Sauna on Lothian Road, No.18 Albert Place, Steamworks in Broughton Market, New Town Sauna in Hart Street and Scorpio Leisure in Albion Road.

New Town and Scorpio both squeaked through the committee meeting, with councillors voting by four votes to three, while the others were backed unanimously.

The Evening News understands Paradise in Roseburn Terrace, Dundas Street Sauna and New Gentle Touch in Argyle Place all had their applications rejected outright, while Blair Street, No 9 in the Cowgate and The Executive on Rose Street North Lane were told they would only be granted a new licence if they altered their signage.

A row had broken out before the meeting after police asked for strict conditions to be attached to the licences, including a ban on “items of a sexual nature”. Charities and health experts blasted this call, insisting that a ban on condoms would put lives at risk.

Suggestions were made that the request signalled a move away from the Capital’s traditionally more tolerant attitude towards the sex industry, something repeatedly denied by Police Scotland.

And yesterday, city councillors, led by committee convener Gavin Barrie, swatted the police recommendations aside.

Lothian Independent MSP Margo MacDonald, who supports the licensing of saunas, hailed the city council for looking at each venue separately.

She said: “The city council has done a grand job here and they should be applauded for deciding each case on an individual basis. Both the council and health board have shown themselves to be wise in their handling of a situation which from the outset has been cack-handled by the new single police force.”

One senior city source said: “The Chief Constable [Sir Stephen House] has made a huge tactical error in treating the nation’s capital with utter contempt. This [vote] is obviously a consequence of that. He needs to seriously consider his next move.”

The saunas which had their licences renewed agreed that “no activities shall take place other than those stated on the licence”, that no under-18s would be permitted and that no business would be conducted out of hours. They were also slapped with a booze ban and ordered to make sure there was always a working sauna on the premises.

Councillor Barrie, said: “The committee has carefully reviewed all the information presented, including information from any objectors and reports from Police Scotland. Each application was considered on its individual merits and of the 13 public entertainment licences that were considered, seven have been renewed.”

As the pros and cons of each licence renewal were being debated, Police Scotland attempted to defuse the row which has brewed over its apparent call for a ban on condoms on sauna premises.

Superintendent Matt Richards said: “Police Scotland does not advocate the banning of condoms. As part of the council’s review of the licences for some of the Edinburgh saunas, Police Scotland submitted a number of written recommendations for their

consideration.

“These focus on ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the users and staff at the premises. At no point do the recommendations make reference to the banning of condoms. Police Scotland absolutely supports proper measures to protect sexual health.”

Claims spark giggles

CONSENTING adults in the form of elected officials, police, civil servants, sauna bosses and journalists gathered in a private setting to witness a key moment in the future of the Capital’s sex industry. Up for delectation was the fate of five establishments, while the remaining eight were to be dealt with behind closed doors.

Police and council officers seduced the watching crowd with tales of scantily-clad women and mirrored ceilings greeting 150 of Police Scotland’s finest as they crashed through the doors of Carol’s Sauna, London Street Sauna, Ambassador Sauna, No.18 Albert Place and Steamworks.

There were giggles as the police claimed that their priority was “health and safety”.

At the end of a long day, city councillors agreed that more than half of Edinburgh’s saunas should be allowed to continue business despite the clampdown by police, while a request that items of a sexual nature be banned was also thrown out.