COUNCIL licensing chiefs snubbed police advice on saunas after lawyers insisted that the demands were “unenforceable”.
Councillors were given a legal briefing just days before the crunch meeting to decide the fate of 13 establishments.
And they were warned that police demands to ban “items of a sexual nature” were unworkable.
Council lawyers also poured cold water on a request to ensure all rooms were equipped with “standard” massage tables.
In total, police had called for ten conditions to be included on renewed licences, but councillors chose to reject four of them following talks with legal advisers.
A senior source at the city council revealed that the licensing committee members then decided they would judge the saunas “on their individual merits” during Wednesday’s showdown hearing.
The insider said: “How do you determine what constitutes a standard massage table? Also, what do you determine to be an item of a sexual nature? Such conditions would have proved very difficult to apply.”
The councillors also decided that police suggestions that sex was taking place on the premises and that saunas were operating outside the terms of their licence did not mean their owners were living off immoral earnings.
The council source added: “There was no group decision to oppose the police on this matter. Instead, each sauna was taken on its merits.”
Seven saunas had their licences renewed – 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.
Four – Paradise in Roseburn Terrace, Dundas Street Sauna, New Gentle Touch in Argyle Place and Blair Street – had their bids rejected outright, while the other two – No.9 in the Cowgate and The Executive on Rose Street North Lane – were ordered to make changes to their signage.
Police demands which were accepted saw saunas agree 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.
Police Scotland refused to comment on whether they felt their advice should have been better heeded.
But a spokesman said: “We will continue to carry out inspections of these venues alongside our relevant partner agencies to ensure the safety of staff and patrons. Any criminal offences or breaches of licence detected will be dealt with and reported appropriately.
“Police Scotland is committed to keeping people safe and our approach to crime in all licensed premises will continue to be thorough and victim-focused. With regards to saunas, we will continue to prioritise harm reduction in partnership with City of Edinburgh Council, health services and third sector colleagues.”
All four saunas which had their applications rejected will be allowed to remain open until their appeal is heard.
A city council spokeswoman said: “If any licence holders choose to appeal the committee’s decision not to renew their licence, they can continue to operate until their case is heard by the Sheriff Court.
“They have 28 days in which to lodge any appeals.”
CLOSURES ‘HELPED FORCE SAVE FACE’
A FORMER sauna boss believes that the closure of some premises had been pushed through to “help the police save face”.
Peter Donoghue represents the Paradise, Dundas Street and New Gentle Touch saunas, which each had their licence refused during Wednesday’s crunch meeting at the City Chambers.
The 69-year-old said: “Our objective was always to ensure the council didn’t change its policy on saunas and allow the girls to work safely.
“If that has helped the industry continue in Edinburgh then we’re happy.
“I’m delighted that the police were beaten and some sense prevailed. I wish the people who got licences the best.”
Mr Donoghue said that the future of the three saunas was being discussed, and new licensees could be sought or the businesses sold.
But their lawyers are set to lodge appeals against the licence rulings in the coming days.
That court battle could last several months, allowing them to remain open until then.