Canary Wharf on why it doesn't want sex clubs

An announcement is expected soon from Tower Hamlets about its proposal to ban the borough's eleven strip, pole-dancing and lap-dancing clubs. As I wrote earlier, I took part in the consultation procedure because I live in the borough and am on a neighbourhood committee and it was pretty evident that the decision had already been taken, with council officials asserting repeatedly that the draft policy was "nil tolerance" for sex clubs.

The ostensible grounds for this were that no one who lives in the borough wants them there, though I'd assumed that was what they were supposed to be discovering from the the focus group? As it was, the five Muslim men on the panel were straightforwardly against the clubs and the three lily-livered non-Muslims took a more liberal line that could be broadly defined as nimbyism. We weren't keen on having them near us but wouldn't like to ban them.

As I wrote the other day, Rania Khan, who is the public face of this campaign, has tied herself in knots to demonstrate that it's not a religious issue - nor even really a cultural one. Oddly, her position is based around an incident of harassment she experienced eight years ago outside the Nag's Head pub on Whitechapel, which she attributed to the presence of strippers within but did not report to the police.

For my own part, I have been wondering why there are no sex clubs in either the City of London or Canary Wharf, since it's long been an article of faith in my house in Bethnal Green - which is opposite one of these places - that they are kept afloat financially by men from the two financial districts? You can see them going in, their well-fed, well-dressed frames in expensive tailoring marking them out very clearly as "not local".

Also, my next door neighbour has a friend who works at a major investment bank who once wrote a cheque for two and a half thousand pounds for an afternoon's client entertainment in the place.

It struck me, you see, that in Canary Wharf no one lives at ground level, so the inconvenience to residents by the rowdy behaviour of the disinhibited people emerging from them would be kept to a minimum.

So I got in touch with Canary Wharf Group, to ask whether it has a policy on sex clubs, which would have resulted in the venues being displaced? It took over a week for them to return my call, after some pestering, but produced this response in the end from Hamish McDougall, who's in the communications office.

"It would not make sense to devote space to adult entertainment at Canary Wharf, not least because we can use available space to provide facilities that are of actual use to the local community, such as new parks and green areas (which are in relatively short supply in Tower Hamlets), creches and nurseries, health clinics, meeting rooms, bank branches, post offices, Idea Stores" (which used to be called libraries) "multi-faith prayer rooms and such like. This is in addition to supermarkets, restaurants, cafes and bars etc and other retailers which are heavily frequented by local families, especially on the weekends. Canary Wharf is part of the local community, so moving adult entertainment here is obviously not removing the issue.

"Some additional points to note.

* You describe Canary Wharf as a 'financial district'. In fact fewer than half the working population has jobs in finance. There are a wide variety of businesses (media, IT, public sector, retail, consultancies, accountants, healthcare, education, energy, transport, law etc). We describe Canary Wharf as a business and shopping district.

* One in four Canary Wharf workers lives in a local East End Borough."

He then supplied an official statement, which read: "Canary Wharf Group prides itself on being socially and environmentally responsible, and a good neighbour for our local community, especially local residents. We would not encourage adult entertainment to open on the Canary Wharf Estate and it is not something the local community, or our tenants, have asked us to do.

"It makes no sense to devote available space to adult entertainment when we can provide amenities that the local community actually wants and needs, for example the proposed roof-top park and community facilities on top of the new Canary Wharf Crossrail station.

"In any case it is the prerogative of the local council to decide where such businesses are based."

So there you have it (and it's telling that the line about it being the council's responsibility is an afterthought). There are no sex clubs in Canary Wharf because the Canary Wharf Estate - in common with every large business - likes to project a corporate image of community responsibility and virtue, probably mainly for legal reasons. The behaviour of its workforce while not on its property would be of no concern of the estate and would, instead be the responsibility of the individuals concerned.

Moreover, social responsibility is geographically defined because that's how Canary Wharf is defined. Leave psychogeography to the likes of Iain Sinclair.

So it's not hard to see that, by intending to push these clubs out of the borough, Tower Hamlets looks set to perform the same manoeuvre as Canary Wharf, for slightly different reasons. International capitalism is only liberal in the economic sense - for everything else it's about self-interest.

And heaven knows there's nothing liberal about the "nil tolerance" proposal.

I just wish the council - and Mayor Rahman and Rania Khan in particular - would admit that its motives are religious and cultural. Because honesty is important and, unlike Canary Wharf Estate, they are democratically accountable.

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