Is this the end for Edinburgh’s saunas? Six have been ordered to shut down, signalling what could be a shift in policy on the sex industry.
Council bosses have suspending half a dozen licences following a string of police raids.
The saunas – which represent nearly half of the Capital’s 13 premises – will be forced to close their doors next month.
The move represents a radical shift from the typically pragmatic approach to prostitution which allowed saunas to operate to keep sex workers safer and off the streets.
It is understood that the saunas being closed are Paradise in Roseburn Terrace, The New Gentle Touch in Argyle Place, the Dundas Street Sauna, Scorpio Leisure in Albion Road, the Blair Street Sauna, and the New Town Sauna in Hart Street.
The decision follows two waves of raids on saunas last month which saw seven individuals charged in connection with brothel keeping and living off immoral earnings.
But a senior council source said that the licences were suspended due to licensing infractions, not the criminal charges.
The source said: “The licence holders have a responsibility to know what’s going on in their sauna, just like in any licenced premises. Their argument was that they just rented out space to the women and had no idea what happened behind close doors.
“That’s a licensing violation and that, not criminal allegations, was the reason for the suspensions.”
Sauna bosses have been given 28 days to appeal against the decision, which was made at a private council meeting yesterday afternoon. If upheld, the suspensions are set to run until each sauna’s licence expires, allowing the owners to apply again to open.
Councillors will take into account any changes to the business before deciding upon a renewal, but the circumstances of the suspension will continue to count against them.
Independent Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald said: “I hope that the council will take time to decide whether the local policy which has worked for years in Edinburgh – one of containment and management – rather than the Glasgow approach of ‘zero tolerance’ should be continued.”
Peter Donoghue, 69, a former sauna operator who represented the Paradise, Dundas Street and New Gentle Touch saunas at the meeting, said: “It was a lot of nonsense. Some girls have worked at the saunas for ten or 12 years. They’ll simply work for escort agencies instead. We’re going to appeal, but I don’t believe we have a chance.”
Mr Donoghue, who first opened a city sauna 35 years ago, added: “Police Scotland have been allowed to take over the city. The other saunas will have to close now.”
A representative from Scorpio Leisure said: “We’re running today and we’ll be running in the future.”
The Blair Street Sauna did not want to comment while no-one at the New Town Sauna was available to respond.
Councillor Gavin Barrie, convener of the regulatory committee, said: “As with all licence suspensions, there is a right to appeal within 28 days to have the decision overturned.”
A Police Scotland spokesman said: “[We] submitted reports to the licensing board, and on the strength of these reports, six venues have had their public entertainment licences suspended, with the suspensions to come into effect 28 days from July 24.”