Leeds' 'legal red light district': What is the Managed Approach in Holbeck and why it is ending?

The Leeds Managed Approach - dubbed Britain's first legal red light zone - is coming to an end.

Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 5:25 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 5:31 pm

The scheme - which allows street sex workers to ply for trade without fear of arrest within certain parts of Holbeck - has been the subject of considerable controversy since it was introduced in 2014.

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Now Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Police have said they want to bring the current Managed Approach to an end.

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The Managed Approach zone in Holbeck (photo: Christopher Furlong / Getty).

The move will effectively re-criminalise prostitution and soliciting in parts of Holbeck where it had been allowed within certain hours.

So what is the Managed Approach?

The scheme allows street sex workers to ply for trade without fear of arrest, in a particular area of Leeds within agreed hours.

The Managed Approach has officially been paused since March 2020 due to Covid, but in reality the buying and selling of sex in the area has continued

Leeds District Commander Chief Superintendent Damien Miller.

When in operation, it aims to:

- Reduce the problems caused by street prostitution to residents and businesses

- Better engage with street sex workers to improve their safety and health, with a view to enabling them to exit this way of life

- Reduce the prevalence of street sex working in Leeds

Why was the Managed Approach introduced?

The city's unofficial red light district had moved to the area around Water Lane over the years, and was creating problems for people living in Holbeck as it crept further into nearby residential areas.

Various approaches focused mainly on enforcement - either against sex workers or their clients - had been tried over the years, but had failed to make any significant impact on the level of street sex work in the city.

Those in favour of the 'managed approach' say it is helping support services and charities to engage with the often vulnerable women involved in sex work and has increased the reporting and successful prosecution of crimes committed against sex workers.

What changes are being proposed?

Before, women selling sex between 8pm and 6am had been allowed to do so by the police.

This change effectively re-criminalises prostitution and soliciting at all times, as was the case before the Managed Approach was introduced in 2014.

No soliciting will be allowed, and on-street sex workers could face criminal action - though the authorities stress that such powers will be used proportionately.

Leeds City Council, West Yorkshire Police and everyone involved in the Safer Leeds Partnership say the key aims of their operation remain the same and that they "remain extremely committed to managing on-street sex work in the most appropriate manner possible in order to reduce harm associated with on-street sex work".

Why are the changes being made?

The authorities say there are significantly fewer sex workers operating in the area as well as fewer men travelling into Holbeck looking to pay for sex.

They say this is down to the ongoing effect of the Covid pandemic, as well as the support offered by services which help sex workers reduce their hours or quit on-street sex work for good.

The authorities are considering putting in place a public space protection order (PSPO) in parts of Holbeck, which would give police extra powers to tackle anti-social behaviour issues including on-street drinking.

Will the Managed Approach move somewhere else?

The authorities involved have said in the strongest terms this will absolutely not be happening.

Red light zones do move around cities, though it has been focused on Holbeck for the past 20 years.

If one sprang up in another area of the city, a tailored approach would be created with similar packages of support for those affected.

Does this mean police are moving to an 'enforcement' strategy?

The authorities stress there has been a policing presence in the area throughout the time of the Managed Approach - and people breaking the rules were subject to police action.

They stress it has never been a 'legal red light zone' as this would be breaking UK law.

Police powers will be used in the area when the Managed Approach is scrapped, but police stress they will not look to take enforcement action against sex workers as a first step - rather it would be a last resort if support services are not successful with individuals over a sustained period.

However, the authorities say they will seek to use "all legal powers as appropriate against those seeking to pay for sex".

Will the current support available to sex workers stop?

No, say the authorities. Providing support to sex workers dealing with complex issues, including addiction, remains a key part of the approach.

Will policing and support services for the community now be withdrawn?

No, police patrols to try to prevent sex work moving into residential areas will continue.

The dedicated police number for people to report issues will remain.

Cleaning services will also remain.

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