By Charles Heslett A BLUEPRINT is being drawn up for a city-wide scheme to slash the number of prostitutes working in the red light areas of Leeds.
The plan – the first of its type for the city – is being put together by police chiefs from the City & Holbeck and Chapeltown divisions along with Leeds City Council's community safety teams.
The YEP understands that independent voluntary groups, who offer confidential help and support to the street workers, will also play a major role in shaping the strategy which will be aimed at tackling the issue in the long term.
Last month the YEP revealed that the number of women working in the city centre's red light zone – which stretches from Water Lane through an industrial estate to the fringes of Holbeck – had topped 170.
Angry community leaders called for police to take action to stop the vice zone spreading into residential areas after women began working as far up as Holbeck Moor.
Vice-squad officers have already carried out what they and local residents regard as a successful crackdown in the city's other red light zone in Chapeltown. Women were also stopped plying their trade in the Sovereign Street and The Calls area of the city centre.
But others believe this has only displaced the problem and made the situation worse in Holbeck.
Tonight, Superintendent Peter Nicholson, of City & Holbeck police, will face residents at a public meeting organised by local ward councillors in Holbeck Moor.
Representatives from the voluntary groups will also be on the panel which will discuss residents' fears over the sprawling vice trade.
Supt Nicholson told the YEP: "What effectively happens is police involvement on its own only helps to move the problem elsewhere.
"What we have in the south Leeds area is the problem of dispersal from another area in Leeds.
"I've been pushing for some 12 to 18 months for a much more holistic approach to this whole issue.
"The only way we can make in-roads is through this holistic approach on a city-wide basis – which means the police working alongside the council's agencies, drug support teams and voluntary groups.
"The situation in Holbeck is not something we are trying to ignore - I've got real sympathy for residents.
"But I know if we just go in gung-ho and pick people up it will only make the situation worse in the long-term."
Supt Nicholson said a key requirement for the success of a city-wide policy would be better access to drug treatment and housing provision to help women get out of the 'vicious circle' of vice.
A Leeds City Council spokesman said: "We are working with our partners to develop a strategy that addresses the problem of prostitution at its root. However, it is too early to comment on the contents of the strategy."
l The public meeting will start at 7.30pm in the St Matthew's Community Centre next to Holbeck Moor.