The Corporation has vowed to crack down on sex venues masquerading as massage parlours, promising to investigate a growing number of businesses around...

The Corporation has vowed to crack down on sex venues masquerading as massage parlours, promising to investigate a growing number of businesses around the Middlesex Street Estate.

The Port Health & Environmental Services Committee approved widespread inspections of all massage parlours within the vicinity of the housing estate last week. The decision was taken after a petition demanding tougher regulations attracted more than 100 signatures from local residents.

The campaign was initiated by two common council members for the Portsoken ward, namely Jason Pritchard and Munsur Ali, who said residents are concerned about the rapidly growing massage parlour trade turning the area into “a red light district”.

Mr Pritchard, himself a resident of the estate, said that Middlesex Street, which forms part of the boundary between the City of London and Tower Hamlets, has seen an increase in the number of massage parlours opening in the area, estimating an additional four or five in the last 18 months alone.

He delivered the petition to both local authorities, saying:

“This is an issue that can only be address by working across the two boroughs.”

Businesses wishing to carry out massages in the City of London and in Tower Hamlets must obtain a specific license to do so. This permits them to perform treatments such as aromatherapy, acupressure, sports massage and reflexology, but nothing of a sexual nature.

The Corporation’s report, which was rubberstamped at a committee meeting on 9 May, flagged six venues with this type of license on or near the estate and within City boundaries, none of which have been inspected in the last 18 months.

It also added that there are no known sex establishments (typically a sex shop, cinema or lap-dancing club) in the Square Mile.

Mr Pritchard said that while the businesses might hold a license to perform beauty treatments, the activities of staff visible through the shop fronts suggested “there is more going on than meets the eye”.

“It’s a residential ward, there are kids running around, so we need to make sure they are complying with licensing laws,”

Online forum highlights two establishments directly underneath and opposite the estate that offer “extra” services of a sexual nature.

A Corporation spokesperson said enforcement teams would soon undertake inspections in the area to ensure compliance with legal licensing requirements: “Previous inspections have shown no evidence of non-compliance but we take every case seriously and investigate thoroughly.

“Should we find a premises not operating in accordance with their licence, or carrying out illegal activity, we will take the appropriate legal action.”

The report said that if “acts of an indecent character are taking place” or “therapists are not decently and properly attired”, consequences to the business could range from a warning letter to license revocation.

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets confirmed they had received the petition, and are “still considering what our next steps are.”

Sex establishment licensing laws in Tower Hamlets outline a policy that is to refuse such applications, unless certain exceptional circumstances are taken into consideration, such as significant distance from schools, residential buildings or places of worship.

Currently, there are 11 businesses within Tower Hamlets area that operate under the legal license, though none in the direct vicinity of the estate.

None of the businesses City Matters spoke to would comment on the report.

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