Leeds red light zone closure proves Holbeck Managed Approach 'experiment' failed says Conservatives leader

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Decision-makers at Leeds City Council have recommended that the city’s controversial managed zone should be scrapped, following a heated debate this week.

The zone was introduced in 2014, covering a non-residential area of Holbeck. It allows street sex workers to ply for trade without fear of arrest within certain hours.

The council now plans to do away with the scheme, but insists this does not mean the end of programmes put in place to help women escape from sex work.

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But the leader of Leeds City Council’s main opposition party said in a meeting this week that the ‘experiment had failed’, and that the council took too long to come to the decision.

A protest held in Holbeck in 2018 in opposition to the Managed Approach to on-street sex work. Picture: Jonathan GawthorpeA protest held in Holbeck in 2018 in opposition to the Managed Approach to on-street sex work. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
A protest held in Holbeck in 2018 in opposition to the Managed Approach to on-street sex work. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Another senior councillor suggested one of the reasons the zone did not operate more effectively was because of the lack of resources put into the scheme.

It was hoped the approach, introduced in partnership with the council and police, would reduce anti-social behaviour and the prevalence of street sex work in the city. But it has been subject to complaints about soliciting and antisocial behaviour on residential streets beyond the bounds of the scheme.

The council’s deputy leader claimed that, although the scheme would soon finish, things had improved for many of the sex workers, and that lessons had been learned from the scheme.

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Speaking at a meeting of Leeds City Council’s executive board, the leader of Leeds City Council’s Conservatives group Coun Andrew Carter responded: “There is no wonder that things have, in inverted commas – improved – this is an admission that the whole experiment failed and we should have come to this conclusion some considerable time ago.

Map of the managed zone.Map of the managed zone.
Map of the managed zone.

“We should have put in a broader package to help these women who suffer from drug, alcohol and other sorts of abuse. I am glad we are going to do that now, but that leaves the residents of Holbeck.

“A lot of them have been very upset by what they have seen and what has gone on.

“It is an extremely difficult thing to tackle, and I accept that you tried, but we are back to square one. I will look forward to more detail coming forward on how you propose to tackle the problem now without ending up with other communities in the same state Holbeck was left in.

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“Other forces were brought to bear in this complete about-turn.”

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Leeds City Council deputy leader Coun Debra Coupar (Lab) responded: “I think the managed approach has given benefits to local residents, women, girls and to safeguard sex workers in the city. We can take the lessons we have taken from the managed approach in the city to enable us to reduce the amount of sex work in the city going forward.

“It’s important to remember why the managed approach was introduced in the first place. It was to tackle the high number of sex workers operating in Holbeck. It was to reduce street based sex work, and to reduce the problems caused by it, and to help women exit that way of life.

“In March 2020, the pandemic hit us and the lockdown occurred – we had to stop the managed approach due to government restrictions. We didn’t stop the support we gave to the local community and sex workers. It’s because of those packages of support that we have seen a huge reduction in sex work, as well as the pandemic.”

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

At a press briefing last week, Leeds City Council insisted that abandoning the model does not mean the end of the programmes put in place to help women involved in sex work.

It also said kerb-crawlers seeking to buy sex would be targeted and public space protection orders could be introduced to give council and police officers the power to issue on-the-spot fines for antisocial behaviour.

Leader of Leeds City Council’s Liberal Democrats Coun Stewart Golton expressed his sorrow that the scheme had not worked out, claiming not enough resources were committed towards making the approach successful.

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“I feel very uncomfortable, when the managed zone was used politically as a campaigning tool,” he said. “I think the council, in its innovative approach to tackling prostitution was brave and forward looking – it tried something, and the Lib Dems were behind that experiment.

“It is with regret that as that experiment progressed, we realised that the commitment to investment in the management needed to make it work was not there, from whichever part of the partnership we are talking about.

“I welcome that the council has come to the conclusion, but it is a very confused conclusion.

“It is the vulnerability of the people involved that merited the attempt at a managed approach. I am not going to congratulate campaigners against the zone for a ‘victory’ – I accept it with regret. I want to see something concrete to see what is being taken forward.”

Councillors agreed to recommend that the zone be scrapped.

It will now go before a Safer Leeds committee meeting next month for final approval.