Businessman in fresh bid to open legal sex shop in Belfast
A Belfast businessman is planning a fresh bid to open the city's first legal sex shop - in the Boucher Road area.
Brian Hope has withdrawn his application with Belfast City Council for an outlet at Gresham Street in the city centre.
Now it can be revealed he has been viewing alternative locations around Boucher Road.
There has only been one licence granted for a sex shop in Northern Ireland.
That was given by Newtownabbey Borough Council in 2007 for premises in Central Park industrial estate in Mallusk.
Mr Hope applied earlier this year to open Belfast's first licensed sex shop at 2-8 Gresham Street.
A second businessman, Steven Robinson of D2D Trading Ltd, later applied to open a separate sex shop called Mystique at 27 Gresham Street.
But the licensing committee heard earlier this month that both had withdrawn the applications.
The move follows a vote by the council in November to stand by its decision in 2003 to not allow any licensed sex shops on Gresham Street.
The reasons given at the time were that the street was located within the city's primary retail core, and that it was home to a licensed premises, a butcher's and a children's clothing shop.
Another objection made earlier this year was that the street was included in renovation initiatives.
The licensing committee heard from business owners opposed to the sex shop licences.
Mr F MacElhatton, speaking for the Smithfield and Union organisation, said a petition against sex shops had been signed by 862 traders and customers. During a meeting of the licensing committee on December 17, councillors were told that both Mr Hope and Mr Robinson had withdrawn their applications.
However, an official advised the committee that Mr Hope was likely to apply again in the new year for a different location and was viewing premises at Boucher Road, amongst others.
The committee also heard that officials were continuing to monitor all (unlicensed) sex shops that had been the subject of enforcement action in recent months.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph earlier this year, Mr Hope said he had been trading on Gresham Street for almost 20 years, but said he wanted to be able to operate legitimately in an effort to clean up the industry.
He claimed he had financial backers in England that would allow him to open a three-storey business and employ five staff.
Mr Hope currently trades as Gresham Books, selling erotic DVDs, magazines and accessories.
The building has two upstairs floors, which are currently empty.
A previous application for a sex shop in Belfast - submitted by a different businessman - prompted a legal row that reached all the way to the House of Lords, as Belfast City Council battled to defend its decision to refuse the outlet a licence.
In 2003 the council refused a licence for sex shop Miss Behavin' and announced a total ban on sex shops in the Gresham Street area, saying it felt the city centre street, which is close to churches and family shops, was an "unacceptable" location.
The shop owner appealed this and the Court of Appeal ruled against the council.
However, in 2007 five law lords overturned that judgment.