Council makes ‘exceptional’ ruling on future of Soho’s G-A-Y Late venue after closure fears

Westminster Council has ruled that an iconic LGBT venue will be allowed to extend its opening hours to avoid closing.

G-A-Y Late, on the edge of Soho, has been given special permission by licensing bosses to remain open until 4am.

However another of its venues, G-A-Y Bar on Old Compton Street, has had its licensed opening hours cut by an hour as part of the deal.

The decision comes following pressure from LGBT activists, local councillors and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who called on the local authority to prevent another LGBT venue closing.

G-A-Y in Soho in central London.

G-A-Y Bar, Soho (Photo BY JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

The future of the venue, located next to a new Crossrail station, had been put in jeopardy after it was handed huge rent rises.

Jeremy Joseph, whose G-A-Y business has been running for more than two decades, said G-A-Y Late was ordered to pay £400,000 a year more in rent.

Councillor Angela Harvey, Chairman of Westminster Council Licensing Committee, told PinkNews: “Preserving the unique mix of Westminster’s night-time economy is a key priority of the council, and we have worked closely with local businesses and residents to balance their needs within our licensing policy.

“The City of Westminster has over 3516 licensed premises of which 1096 are located within the West End.

“Councillors felt the amended application demonstrated that this case was exceptional and would not cause any significant disturbances to residents.

“The application is subject to several key conditions to mitigate the cumulative impact of the later hours; Including the reduction of operating hours by one hour of G-A-Y on Old Compton Street, and patrols of Goslett Yard by staff to ensure patrons disperse after closing time.”

London Pride on Regent's Street, 2017

London Pride on Regent’s Street, 2017 (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

However the landlords of the G-A-Y Late venue could still block the decision.

Mr Joseph wrote on Facebook: “When granting the licence the council imposed a condition for all licensable activity at G-A-Y Late to only be valid while the venue is run as an LGBT venue which obviously was a condition we agree with to protect the LGBT future of a Soho venue.

“However, we need our freehold landlords to approve this condition, as there is a clause in our lease which requires us to ‘maintain the licence necessary for keeping open the Premises so far as necessary for the Permitted User (Class A3 and D2)’ and at the end of the lease ‘to obtain a transfer of the current licences to the Landlord or its nominee’.

“If the licence condition is applied, then we have been advised that our landlords could argue that we are in breach of our obligations under the lease so we are asking for their permission to change our licence to LGBT only, fingers crossed & will update you once Redefined Charing Cross Limited have replied.”

The club is one of the best known LGBT venues in London and is the sister venue to G-A-Y Heaven, which has hosted performances from stars including Adele, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Kylie Minogue.

The proposal was backed by West End ward councillors Jonathan Glanz and Paul Church, who is the council’s lead member for LGBT+ issues, as well as human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Speaking before the decision, Mr Joseph said he would not allow the venue to close because he was determined to “protect the jobs of the people loyal to G-A-Y”.

Explaining his application, he said: “The plight of G-A-Y Late is an example of how easy it is to lose a successful business, but to be clear, I won’t let it close and I will protect the jobs of the people loyal to G-A-Y.

“With that in mind I have come up with a plan – today I put in an application with Westminster Council to increase G-A-Y Late opening hours to 4am, that extra hour, seven days a week, 364 days a year will cover the rent increase.

“I know, it is against Westminster Policy to increase hours in the stress area, but we didnt ask for rent and rates increases, but we do ask for Westminster to secure the future of an LGBT venue by making exception to policy.”

He also appealed to Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and London’s Night Tsar, Amy Lamé, who pledged to protect LGBT venues after a report found more than half of London’s LGBT venues have closed in a decade.

According to a report by UCL Urban Laboratory, the number of designated LGBT venues in London has fallen from 127 venues in 2006, to just 53 in 2017.

The report found that the 58% drop was rarely due to a lack of demand, but external pressures – such as large-scale developments, a lack of safeguarding in the planning system and the sale and change of use of property by landlords.

Peter Tatchell was among those supporting the application to extend the venue’s hours.

He wrote: “I understand that Westminster has a licensing policy that normally refuses applications for later extensions.

“However, I very much doubt that giving G-A-Y Late an extra hour is going to increase problems in the area relating to public nuisance or crime and disorder.

“These premises are not troublesome at the moment and there is no reason to suppose that extra opening hour would suddenly turn them into problematic premises.

“We really need to keep all of our central London LGBT venues to ensure that the Soho and Covent Garden areas remain culturally diverse and meet the social needs of London’s LGBT community.

“It is very important thing to preserve LGBT venues and cultural diversity in this area at a time when many other premises are closing. It would be a loss to the LGBT community if it was forced to close.”

(Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Speaking to BBC Radio London over summer, the G-A-Y boss told Vanessa Feltzthat rate rises have increased by more than a third of a million pounds across London venues G-A-Y Heaven, G-A-Y Late and G-A-Y Bar.

“For G-A-Y, our rate increase that happened this year is now £390,000.

“The worst part of all of this is that you can review and take it to appeal which we have done.

“But what they’re not telling you is you have to pay it while waiting for it to go to appeal.

“And appeal will take up to two, three years. By then businesses who can’t afford it will be gone.”