“This is no Club X”: Laneway sex shop approved despite objections
The application for a new sex shop on a narrow CBD laneway has been approved by the City of Melbourne, despite residents expressing concerns about how it would impact the local area.
“High Tide”, promoted as a modern adult store that will be “a sanctuary to sexually empower people through experience, conversation and community”, was granted a planning permit to operate on Rankins Lane off Little Bourke St, and plans to begin trading in March.
Disapproval from 18 objectors ranged from the business being at an inappropriate location, its impact on local amenity (including noise and anti-social behaviour) and being a potential harm to children.
“Given that there is such large amount of residential activity established in the laneway, without being judgemental of the actual retail items, it’s not appropriate for such a laneway because people who want to avoid it can’t cross the street,” objector Wayne Coles-Janess said, noting the laneway was just four metres wide.
However, Paige Aubort, co-founder of High Tide alongside partner Soeren, said attempts to meet with concerned residents were left unanswered.
“We understand that some members of the community may have concerns about our store,” Ms Aubort said.
“That is why we responded promptly to their concerns in a letter and invited them to visit us, call us, or send us an email. Unfortunately, no one responded, which leads us to believe that they might be objecting to their idea of an adult store rather than the store that we are building.”
Residents’ concerns did not hold up under planning scrutiny and councillors voted unanimously to grant a planning permit at the February 7 Future Melbourne Committee meeting.
That evening, the soon-to-open business— which signed a lease for 5 Rankins Lane in September 2022 — thanked the writers of the 60 supporting letters submitted during the process.
“Thank you for the applications of support, for sharing the good word with friends and for sending us kind words of support,” High Tide posted on Instagram.
“We look forward to welcoming you through our doors on March 9.”
As part of permit conditions, the business could only display sexually explicit advertisements, goods and products within the premises itself, with no products to be displayed directly behind the shopfront.
It must also close by 6pm.
Council’s planning chair Nicholas Reece said the business, which hopes to offer couples and sex therapy in addition to sex products, should be supported.
“This is no Club X or Crazy Horse, it’s not a den of sin, it’s actually a house of sexual wellness, a place of sexual healing — and that’s good for the public health of Melbourne,” the Deputy Lord Mayor said, adding that it offered “sensitive branding”.
As several councillors expressed support for what the new business could offer, deputy planning chair Rohan Leppert said this was not in fact relevant to the councillors’ decision.
“It’s not for us to necessarily decide whether it’s a good adult sex product shop or a bad [one], the question is ‘is this an appropriate land use in this location based on the policy?’ And the answer is, yes,” Cr Leppert said.
“I don’t think we’re in a position to support the application on the assumption that it’s a particular type of adult sex product shop. It complies with policy and, therefore, should be supported.”
Lord Mayor Sally Capp noted the tension between different interests “in a city that is densely populated by residents and businesses”, but urged opposing parties in these disputes to, where possible, sort through issues before they escalate.
“We do want to do everything we can to support, listen and respond to all of those groups, but sometimes that balance is really difficult,” she said.
“One of the best things that can avoid those sorts of outcomes … is if you can keep communicating in a constructive and respectful way, where issues are raised and responded to, between you before they escalate. That’s often a great way of smoothing out or addressing issues as they arise; recognising that the concerns and feelings of each are equally valid.” •
Caption: The entrance to Rankins Lane, from Little Bourke St.