Leeds red light zone closure: Why Holbeck Managed Approach to street sex work is being stopped by council

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Leeds's controversial Managed Approach to on-street sex work - once dubbed the UK's first legal red light zone - is set to be scrapped next month.

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

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But Leeds City Council insists that abandoning the model does not mean the end of the programmes put in place to help women involved in sex work.

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Coun Debra Coupar, deputy leader of Leeds City Council, stressed the Managed Approach would not be relocated to another part of the city. Picture: Tony JohnsonCoun Debra Coupar, deputy leader of Leeds City Council, stressed the Managed Approach would not be relocated to another part of the city. Picture: Tony Johnson
Coun Debra Coupar, deputy leader of Leeds City Council, stressed the Managed Approach would not be relocated to another part of the city. Picture: Tony Johnson

It 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.

Speaking at a media briefing, deputy leader Debra Coupar said: "No soliciting offences will be allowed to take place at any time in the area.

"We do not want any individual seeking to buy sex on the streets of the city being encouraged in any way to return to Holbeck or to any area of Leeds."

She also stressed that there were no plans to introduce a Managed Approach-style scheme elsewhere in the city.

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The Managed Approach, which applies to a non-residential area of Holbeck, was first introduced in 2014. It allows street sex workers to ply for trade without fear of arrest within agreed hours.

It was hoped this would reduce anti-social behaviour and the prevalence of street sex work in the city.

But since its introduction, the scheme has been subject to complaints about soliciting on streets beyond the bounds of the scheme and reports of men making unwelcome approaches to women not involved in street sex work when they are on residential streets.

The Managed Approach has not been in operation since March 2020, due to coronavirus restrictions.

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Coun Coupar said: "Data and intelligence tells us now that there are far fewer sex workers in the area due to a number of factors, including coronavirus, but also to the package of support available to sex workers.

"We feel we are in a position to revise our approach in Holbeck and, as part of that, to discontinue the Managed Approach."

She said the decision - still to be ratified formally by the council's Executive Board - would mean that the previous Managed Approach operating hours of 10pm-6am and "all associated rules" would no longer apply.

She thanked Holbeck residents for their input, while emphasising that the model would not be introduced anywhere in the city.

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The council was keen to emphasise this point, with its media release making this pledge in bold type that was underlined.

Council officer James Rogers added: "We are not complacent, and we recognise there is a lot of hard work to do. Our work will continue to deal with the issues that arise.

"Community listening is at the heart of what we do."

Paul Money, chief officer of the Safer Leeds partnership, said the number of on-street sex workers had declined "quite significantly" but acknowledged there were still women in need of support.

"There does remain women involved in on-street sex workers operating in Holbeck," he said.

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"Often these women have quite complex needs, but our approach has been focussing on harm-reduction to the women and to the community."

Chief Superintendent Damien Miller, Leeds District Commander for West Yorkshire Police, said the work that had developed taken place with other under the Managed Approach would continue.

He said the enforcement-led approach taken before 2014 "clearly didn't work", citing his own personal experience as an inspector with the neighbourhood policing team covering Holbeck.

"The partnership approach we have used for the Managed Approach has worked," he said. "We have been able to help the women who are on-street sex workers who have complex needs to stop on-street sex work.

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"As we move out of the Managed Approach, the partnership will continue - targeting kerb-crawlers and helping those women."

He urged people to report offences "at the earliest opportunity" to the force, adding that the dedicated police line for Holbeck residents would continue.

Plans to end the scheme will go before the council's Executive Board on Wednesday June 23 and are expected to be finalised in early July.