Leeds red light zone campaign group Save Our Eyes on policing of 'managed approach'

Campaigners have welcomed a recent change in the policing of the red light zone in Leeds, citing the tenacity of unhappy residents as the cause.

Community safety partnership Safer Leeds has announced that four additional police officers have been assigned to the area of Holbeck covered by the 'managed approach' to street sex work.

Additional police officers have been assigned to Holbeck following complaints about the way the 'managed approach' is being enforced.

Additional police officers have been assigned to Holbeck following complaints about the way the 'managed approach' is being enforced.

Read more: How the 'managed approach' to street sex work operates in Holbeck

It allows street sex workers to ply for trade without fear of arrest in certain streets and within agreed hours, providing they follow certain rules.

But complaints from residents have steadily risen in recent years, prompting a promise last month of an independent review.

The additional officers, who began work in the past fortnight, will provide a faster response to calls made to a dedicated phone line, act on intelligence and use proactive enforcement measures.

Claire Bentley-Smith, of Save Our Eyes, said there had been a noticeable increase in police action where sex workers or their clients were breaking the rules and the group had built a good relationship with new arrivals to the local policing team since the summer.

“They are enforcing the law and that’s exactly what they should have been doing from the word go,” she said.

“We’re reluctant to pat them on the back about it because it’s exactly what should have happened four years ago. The fact is it’s been left to run wild and now they’re trying to get Pandora back in the box.

“We accept they’re trying to make improvements though and the new policing team have completely shaken things up around here. That doesn't take away from the fact that there's still an open sex shop at the bottom of the hill."

Read more: Extra police officers to patrol Leeds 'legal red light district' in Holbeck

Ms Bentley-Smith said there were still issues with people who are seeking sex cruising Holbeck in cars, but she hoped the announcement from Safer Leeds would send them a clear message that they could not simply approach anybody they wanted.

She added that residents should be proud that they had made their concerns heard by those overseeing the operation of the controversial scheme, saying: “It’s down to the tenacity of this community that this has happened at all.”

What remains unclear is how the scheme will evolve as planned regeneration of the South Bank area continues, with residents in Holbeck anxious that it could push street sex workers further towards residential streets.

"We very much feel this is a temporary measure, "Ms Bentley-Smith said. "Next year there's going to be a lot of redevelopment in the South Bank area, so when hoardings and security lights start to go up and there are security guards and cameras around, I think the street sex industry will start to migrate away from there.

"The whole of Leeds needs to understand that this could very possibly move onto any district. It can't at the moment and the services are here, these women's suffering will continue wherever they end up."

She said she also remained opposed to the idea of the 'managed approach' because of what else it meant, adding: "If you say you're going to tolerate prostitution, it's not just that. There's a huge drug industry here. The majority of street sex workers have been violently assaulted by punters, pimps or dependant boyfriends who are coercing them into this."