An experiment to allow sex workers in Leeds to ply their trade without fear of police action looks set to be extended after being hailed a success by city chiefs.
The groundbreaking scheme means that women in the sex trade can operate freely between the hours of 7pm and 7am within a specified “managed area” in the Holbeck district, as long as they adhere to a list of rules.
The strategy, which was quietly introduced on October 1 last year, has attracted some criticism from local business people who say they are blighted by problems associated with prostitution and are unhappy that police are not enforcing the law.
But, as the end of a 12-month pilot approaches, council and police chiefs say there is evidence it has been successful and is likely to continue.
Coun Mark Dobson, Leeds City Council’s executive member for Safer Leeds, said: “The evidence is clearly suggesting the pilot is worthy of continuation.”
Once the industrial heartland of Leeds, Holbeck has had an unwanted association with prostitution for several years, during which the authorities admit they have struggled to deal with the issue.
A 2013 study carried out by Dr Kate Brown, a researcher from York University, found that the policy of police enforcement – through which the law was used against women who were working in the sex trade – had failed to reduce levels of prostitution or associated problems.
Dr Brown said: “What we found was quite a worrying picture. We had a decade of enforcement, high levels of anti-social behaviour orders being issued to sex workers and lots of fines, and that had made very little difference to local residents and to the numbers of complaints.”
The managed area, which was introduced after consultation with residents and businesses, means that the women will not be hassled by police as long as they stay within the designated area and work only between 7pm and 7am.
Extra bins have been put in place designed for the waste products that the trade generates.
A three-strikes policy means women found breaking the rules will initially be given a warning, cautioned if they transgress again and face arrest if they are caught a third time.
According to the agencies involved, since it was introduced, the scheme has seen complaints from residents fall by a third.
Crimes against sex workers are about ten times more likely to be reported to police.
Local councillor Angela Gabriel said: “If we’d done nothing, we might as well have just shut the door on Holbeck because people would have been moving out in their droves. It’s not even an issue now.”
Not everyone is convinced, however.
Local business owner Ian Staines says his premises – in the heart of the managed area – remain blighted by problems.
He said: “You come into work and there are condoms all over the car park, they go to the toilet down the side of the building.
He added: “It’s an illegal activity and police are there to enforce the law and they aren’t doing it. They’ve given up. I find it wholly unjust that I can get fined for doing 65mph in a 60mph and yet they drive past kerb crawlers and prostitutes and turn a blind eye.”
Fellow businessman Tony Calmonson said: “My staff come in the morning and have to clean up the debris from the night before. I’m fed up of it.
“It’s hard enough to run a company in the current climate. You don’t need the extra weight on your back.”