FOUR saunas have had their licences rejected, but seven others have been given permission to continue operating.
Police Scotland failed to convince councillors that a condition that “no items of a sexual nature” should be allowed on the premises should be imposed.
There were 13 sauna applications to be heard yesterday, five in public and eight in private.
The initial five, heard in public, were all approved. They included Carol’s Sauna, London Street Sauna, Ambassador Sauna, No Eighteen and Steamworks.
The remaining eight were to be heard in private because of concerns about subjudice.
Representatives of two, Scorpio and New Town Sauna, said they had gained approval as they left the council meeting last night.
Speaking after the meeting, convener of the licensing sub- committee, Councillor Gavin Barrie, said: “The committee has carefully reviewed all the information presented, including information from any objectors and reports from Police Scotland. Each application was considered on its individual merits and of the 13 public entertainment licences considered today, seven have been renewed.”
Among the saunas that had their licence applications rejected last night were Blair Street, New Gentle Touch, Paradise and Dundas Street, though the decisions could be appealed. Two other decisions were deferred.
Six establishments were raided by Police Scotland in July, and seven people were charged in relation to sex for sale on the premises. The new national force is perceived to be taking a stronger line than the former Lothian and Borders Police. Previously, police and councillors appeared to turn a blind eye to prostitution in saunas, as it was seen as safer than on the street.
In relation to Carol’s Sauna, police wrote about an inspection in June: “Officers observed that the females working in the premises were scantily clad, massage rooms were equipped as bedrooms, no purpose-built massage tables were apparent on the premises and used condoms were found in the bins in two of the bedrooms.”
In relation to London Street Sauna, police said “massage rooms were equipped as bedrooms with mirrored ceilings and walls” and “pornographic magazines were on display in the reception area”.
However, councillors on the licensing sub-committee found some of the police’s conditions to be unworkable and vague. The only additional conditions imposed, after being requested by police, were an alcohol ban and requirement that the sauna be in good working order.
The rest were either considered to be already in place, or rejected, including the ban on “items of a sexual nature”. This has been widely welcomed.
A spokeswoman for Scotpep, which supports sex workers, said: “Banning condoms would not have been safe. It would have pushed safe sex messages back 30 years.”
The Church of Scotland praised the council for rejecting the police condition.
The Rev Dr Robin Hill, convener of the church’s HIV programme, said: “While issues of criminality need to be considered very seriously in licensing processes, it would be folly to ignore the risks associated with a possible increase in the incidence of unprotected sex in Edinburgh’s saunas.”
MSP Margo MacDonald welcomed the news that two saunas so far had been allowed to stay in business.
She said: “I cannot congratulate the council enough for finally standing up. This new wave of police and their zero tolerance policy is wrong.”
Earlier, Police Scotland denied its attempt to ban “items of a sexual nature” would include condoms.
Superintendent Matt Richards said: “Police Scotland submitted a number of written recommendations for their consideration.”
He added: “At no point do the recommendations make reference to the banning of condoms.”