Leeds council warned against ‘taking Holbeck residents for fools’ over managed approach report
The academic who led a study into the Holbeck Managed Area for sex workers claimed most people who took part in the study believed the zone should continue.
It follows the publication earlier this month of the study, which claims the zone should remain but must continue to evolve.
But, in a meeting of Leeds City Council’s executive board, the man who led the review, Prof Jason Roach, admitted that the response from local people and businesses was ‘poor’, and had not been as high as expected.
The leader of the council’s opposition Conservative group criticised the report for not speaking to a greater number of local residents and businesses, while warning people in Holbeck could feel the council was ‘taking them for fools’.
Begun as a pilot by the Safer Leeds community partnership in 2014, the managed zone allows sex workers to operate on certain non-residential streets in Holbeck and within agreed hours without fear of arrest.
A review into the zone was conducted by a team of academics and experts from Huddersfield University during 2019. Its findings were published earlier this month.
Prof Roach told the meeting: “Before (2014), it was very much about enforcement – arresting and fining people – ironically many of the sex workers had to go out and work more in order to repay the fines.”
“Complaints have reduced in the past 18 months to two years.
“There is still some way to go, but it is lightyears away from where it was in 2014. Some sex workers say it saved their lives.”
He added there had been an increase in sex workers reporting crimes against them to the police, adding they may have been afraid to do so in the past.
Prof Roach said “‘Should the MA continue?’ was a big question – the overwhelming answer was ‘yes’. Generally people could see no other alternative than the promise of a more effective managed approach.
“One thing we did pick up was about women in general. Women residents didn’t feel very safe – they felt intimidated by men who propositioned them out of car windows.
“We picked that up time and time again – there is a need to respect the women of Holbeck.
He added that a media approach to improve the public image of Holbeck may help, adding: “Young children said it was embarrassing that every time someone Googled Holbeck, the first 10 hits were about the managed approach.”
Leader of the opposition Conservatives group Coun Andrew Carter said: “One thing that astonished me about this report is the very small number of people who participated.
“Is it not true that when this exercise was undertaken, residents were told if the managed area would end, extra policing and litter patrols would end as well? If that was the case, it may well have undue influence on how people respond.”
Leeds City Council’s deputy leader Coun Debra Coupar said: “The residents have not been told in my presence or to my knowledge that the area would not be cleaned or policed if there was not a managed zone.”
Coun Carter continued: “I also don’t think the residents of Holbeck will thank us for a spin exercise about Holbeck.
“I understand why we want to promote the positive aspects of Holbeck.
“But if it is done as a spin exercise to paper over the massive differences of opinion, the people of Holbeck would have a right to think we were taking them for fools. They know what is going on, and deserve better than a PR and media strategy.
“It is not complete until we hear from a much larger section of Holbeck residents.”
Coun Coupar said: “Part of the report Jason talked about – the communication strategy is to recognise all that depth of community and opinions and feelings about how they feel about their local area, and not just the managed approach.”
Prof Roach added: “We sent out 1,950 links to our survey – 1,950 households in Holbeck – just before Christmas. Each link could only be used once – we got 80 (responses) within two weeks.
“We also had a drop-in night on January 6, with paper copies, laptops and tablets to fill surveys in. We had eight people turn up.
“These great big bases of residents, we tried our damndest to get in touch with these people and the response was poor.”
He also claimed the majority of 72 businesses contacted did not want to take part or were not interested and did not consider it a problem.