Taxpayers in Edinburgh have had to fork out more than £100,000 to pay Edinburgh council’s legal fees following the local authority’s failed bid to ‘ban’ strip clubs.
Lawyers representing strippers and the clubs they work in faced down an attempt by the City of Edinburgh Council to set the number of sexual entertainment venues at zero – part of a nil-cap policy which would have effectively banned them – when they launched a judicial review against the policy.
The council revealed it had so far paid £117,011 in legal fees for the review, which saw Lord Richardson rule that the policy was unlawful after a two-day hearing at the Court of Session.
The figures, which were unveiled using freedom of information powers, also showed that six members of council staff had been involved in the judicial review.
And the council said the amount to be paid by the authority to the opposing side had not yet been confirmed.
The battle to keep Edinburgh’s four strip clubs open was launched in March 2022 when the city council’s regulatory committee voted to set the appropriate level of sexual entertainment venues in the capital at zero.
Strippers told councillors at the meeting about their fears if it had been passed, and how they felt it would push women into prostitution, but was approved in a five to four vote.
After the decision, which prompted fury among workers and even saw an Edinburgh Fringe burlesque act become part of the campaign to save the venues, a fundraising drive was launched.
During the judicial review, the council had argued the nil-cap policy did not ban the clubs but set a level it deemed appropriate, and allowed a rebuttable presumption.
But Lord Richardson said the council would just look at the number of sexual entertainment venues in the area and then at the number it deemed appropriate, which was set at zero.
“In the event that the first number is equal to or greater than the second number, then the ground will apply and, as a consequence, the local authority must refuse the application,” he said in his ruling earlier this year.
Lord Richardson said the council did not put forward “a good reason why the erroneous decision should not be quashed”, and added that the regulatory committee was “clearly advised that making a nil determination would only create a rebuttable presumption which could ultimately result in closure of existing premises”.
He went on to rule: “I do consider that there is a realistic possibility that, properly advised, a different decision may have been taken.
“It seems to me that, were I to decide otherwise, I would be trespassing on the decision-making which had been entrusted (to the council).”
A City of Edinburgh Council spokesperson said: “It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment on legal action.
“A report will go to the regulatory committee in May outlining a 12-week consultation plan regarding a review of the sexual entertainment venues policy.
“Following the consultation the responses will be collated and considered by councillors with the new licensing scheme set to be implemented by December 31 2023.”