RESIDENTS were last night celebrating what was hailed as a "landmark" victory in preventing an attempt to open a lap dancing club.

Durham will remain a lap dancing-free city after residents won their appeal against the granting of a licence to convert the Loft nightclub, in the city's North Road.

A licensing appeal panel at North Durham Magistrates' Court rejected a counter bid by club operator Vimac Leisure, of South Tyneside, to extend its permitted opening to more than three nights a week.

Following more than four hours' deliberation, after a three-day hearing, the panel ruled in favour of residents who opposed the previous approval, granted by Durham City Council, in August.

Upholding the appeal by the consortium of residents and community groups, bench chairman Glynn Jones said they heard "compelling evidence" that a lap dancing club would only aggravate problems of late-night nuisance and disorder in the city.

He said the application failed four tests under the 2003 Licensing Act, and no conditions the bench could impose would reduce the possibility that such premises would not exacerbate existing problems experienced late at night in the North Road area.

Delighted residents were then given further good news when a costs order application by their lawyer, Ian Miller, was awarded against the city council, and not Vimac.

The city council must foot the £2,795.10 bill for the hearing.

Speaking after the hearing, Ann Evans, a retired university lecturer, said: "We're absolutely delighted. We had hoped but did not dare expect the decision to go this way.

"Ever since I heard the first decision of the city council, I have known it was wrong and I'm so pleased to be vindicated.

"It shows that the city council has made a mistake in granting the licence.

"I think the majority of residents of Durham and district will be as delighted as I am."

Mrs Evans, her husband, Dr Desmond Evans, and another city resident, Kirsty Thomas, lodged the appeal, backed by a cross-section of people in the city, including university lecturers, community groups and Durham MP Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods, who considered such a premises inappropriate in the city.

Mrs Thomas said: "It's a landmark case because, to my knowledge, it's the first case where regulated entertainment has been rejected when opposed by interested parties, by local people who have put together their case as complete amateurs.

"It's involved a tremendous amount of work and that has only been possible by the support, encouragement and dedication of all our fine witnesses."

Mrs Thomas, a retired teacher, added: "Durham people have spoken and they have made their voices clear - they do not want a lap dancing club in the city."

The city council said it would comment later and Vimac Leisure's representatives made no comment after the hearing.