LAP dancing has controversially been given the go ahead in the Highlands for the first time.
The bid by Hush had been opposed by Highland Violence Against Women Strategy Groupand religious groups.
Maxine Smith, the chairwoman of Highland Council’s licensing board which gave the application the green light, also claimed it was “exploitation against women”.
But she conceded there was no legal reason for not granting the proposal which had been supported by her SNP colleague Liz MacDonald.
There was also no objection raised by police to the application.
But the unanimous decision by councillors to allow Hush a variation of an adult entertainment licence to be operated has sparked fury.
Gillian Gunn, spokeswoman of the Highland Violence Against Women Strategy Group, who spoke of her opposition to the board said it would put vulnerable women at greater risk of abuse and that such ‘entertainment’ had links to prostitution.
She added: “There is a large body of evidence showing that ‘adult entertainment’ can increase crime and disorder in the areas in which it takes place.
“There are additional community safety issues which arise from ‘adult entertainment’.
“A number of reports have concluded that where ‘adult entertainment’ exists, particularly in the form of lap dancing clubs, incidents of sexual violence have increased within those communities as have women’s expressed levels of fear of travelling at night within the areas.
“Therefore, ‘adult entertainment’, in any form, has the potential to increase crime and disorder.
“Many women involved in commercial sexual exploitation have experienced sexual abuse as children and or domestic abuse as adults.
“Being involved in this industry also increases the likelihood of sexual harassment and sexual humiliation.
“There is growing evidence in Scotland that prostitution is available in many lap dancing clubs too.”
But Lorna Murray, the solicitor representing the owners of Hush, said they were being backed by long-standing lap dancing establishments in Aberdeen and Dundee, which had never been in any trouble in 15 years of business.
She said there was a robust code of conduct including a register of performers who are regularly evaluated.
The owners also have a good relationship with police – who have not opposed the bid – with CCTV of an approved standard already installed.
In arguing for permission, Hush pointed to the strong stewarding presence that would be present and the fact there would be no private booths.
Chairwoman Maxine Smith said: “I perceive this as exploitation of women who are scantily clad. You have men with copious amounts of alcohol and naked women.
“But Hush has a good running history that is acceptable and safe. I think we have no choice but to grant the application.”
Nairn Councillor Liz MacDonald, who operates belly dancing classes in the Highlands, likened the business to clubs hiring male strippers such as the Chippendales, adding: “It is a licence providing a service that, like it or not, is a competent business.”
Tony Cochrane, who runs Private Eyes lap dancing club in Aberdeen, has been working with the owners of Hush on the proposed new business, and he said that while he respected the views of the Highland Violence Against Women Strategy Group, allowing lap dancing would not lead to a rise in crime or disorder.
A Free Church of Scotland spokesman said: “We are disappointed that Highland Council have ignored the opinions of women’s groups, churches and those who want to discourage the exploitation of women.
“For Highland Council to approve this form of sexual exploitation is disturbing, especially in a day when internet pornography is also fuelling the fires of sexual abuse.
“Anything which exploits women and sets them up to be purchased by men should not be authorised by Highland Council.
“It is disappointing that the councillors have failed to look after the interests of those they are supposed to be representing.”
He added: “In recent years Inverness has seen a lot of young families moving to the area.
“There is already widespread public concern over the accessibility of sexually suggestive material to children and young people - bringing a lap dancing club to one of the busiest streets in Inverness will make this worse not better.
“Lap dancing clubs send out a very clear message - that women are sex objects to be stared at like animals in a zoo.”
Scottish Christian Party leader Donald Boyd added: “We are opposed to this lowering of the tone of the city centre and the exploitation of women by a lap-dancing facility.”
Father James Bell of St Mary’s Catholic Church in Inverness said: “I object to this because it offends the essential dignity of the human person, is an insult to women and debasing to men.”