Aisha Iqbal: Sex and the city...a necessary coupling?

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We all know sex sells - so it could be argued that the recent green-light for Leeds’s newest lapdancing club is a more than suitable reflection of the city’s supersize ambitions to be an economic powerhouse.

Bear with me on this one.

We are a big city with big ideas, and big, bold ambitions. Can you think of any huge, successful, urban metropolitan centre where big business and base desires don’t go hand in hand?

Some of the world’s biggest cities are known as much for their seedier, salacious underbellies as they are for their bright lights and even brighter talent. London, Amsterdam, New York, Bangkok, Rio, Madrid. The list is endless. Why should we be any different?

And how are we to attract all those men in suits to our city if we don’t give them something other than purely numerical and financial figures to ponder between meetings?

There has been plenty of outrage this week over Leeds City Council’s decision to grant a licence for a two-floor sexual entertainment venue to be housed at the former Townhouse and Chilli White nightclub building near the Corn Exchange. The owners, who are a global brand with dozens of big name premises under their umbrella, say they want to revitalise an important part of Leeds city centre and will invest £1m into doing so.

Moral arguments aside, I don’t think I am alone in feeling more than a tad confused by the council’s decision.

I sat through the very lengthy meeting at Leeds Civic Hall where evidence was heard from a number of objectors.

The most telling objections were from women who live in the area, with one commenting that she would feel like a prisoner in her own home if the application was approved.

Whilst having some sympathy with the residents living nearby, I also couldn’t help but think that they have chosen to live in a busy city centre, near an established party heartland, so – apart from the moral arguments – how is a blacked out venue which opens at 10pm, long after the kids have gone to bed, really any worse than the status quo?

But here’s the crux of the matter. The council’s decision comes in the wake of its own high profile change of its regulations in 2013, when the authority put a cap on the numbers of lapdancing clubs it would allow at any one time. And a key reason for the cap? They wanted to ban such venues from “sensitive locations”, for example near schools and religious and public buildings.

I am at a loss as to how, despite those nods to “sensitivity” – which are all listed in black and white in the licensing policy by the way – this application was voted through with relatively little reference back? Even two of the city’s Labour MPs have made their disapproval of this decision by a Labour-run council quite clear.

Which leads me back to my original point. That sex sells, and we need to sell our city as a tourism magnet for people with lots of money and a willingness to invest it here.

It’s a simple, old fashioned trade-off of morality versus money, and I can just about live with it. But the whiff of hypocrisy underlying the decision? I’m not so sure about that.

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