Leeds red light zone campaign group 'absolutely gutted' over managed approach review

Campaigners opposed to the way the city’s red light zone is managed said they are “absolutely gutted” about the findings of an independent review.

Saturday, 11th July 2020, 11:45 am

Save Our Eyes, one of the most vocal critics of the Managed Approach (MA) to street set work in Holbeck, questioned the scope of the report and expressed anger at a number of its recommendations.

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Leeds red light zone review says managed approach should continue

It also said the exclusion of community representatives from a media briefing ahead of its publication flew in the face of suggestions made in the review that there should be greater involvement from local residents in the scheme.

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A protests takes place in Holbeck in 2018, calling for an end to the Managed Approach.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Claire Bentley-Smith said they were “gobsmacked” to learn the briefing had been held on Thursday without the representative earlier agreed by Save Our Eyes and other community organisations.

She said ward councillor Andrew Scopes had been put forward instead without their knowledge, adding: “He doesn’t represent what we think because he’s pro the zone. There was no genuine community member there.”

But Leeds City Council said ward councillors act as a voice for the communities they are democratically elected to represent and the decision had been shared with the Voice of Holbeck group, a coalition of more than 10 local organisations including Save Our Eyes.

The council commissioned a team at the University of Huddersfield last year to investigate how effective the controversial MA scheme was, amid questions from some councillors about whether it should be abandoned.

Begun as a pilot by the Safer Leeds community partnership in 2014, it allows sex workers to operate on certain non-residential streets in Holbeck and within agreed hours without fear of arrest.

The aims from the outset have been to reduce the prevalence of street-based sex working, lessen the problems it creates for residents and local businesses, and better engage with the women involved to improve their safety and health.

On the question of its future, the review concluded: “The MA was found to be more effective at reducing the impact of problems associated with on-street sex working than any other approach or model.”

It went on to stress that the MA must continue to adapt when needed, with examples being the introduction of a dedicated policing team in 2018.

What it failed to acknowledge, Ms Bentley-Smith said, were issues including sex trafficking, reducing demand from men buying sex, or the dispersal of street sex work into other areas of south Leeds.

She said it was “disgusting” to suggest the community in Holbeck needs to take greater responsibility and ownership of the MA – a scheme imposed upon them by others.

And on the recommendation of a campaign to promote the positives of life in Holbeck and respect for all, she said: “A PR campaign isn’t going to stop men kerb crawling me when I walk into the city centre.”

Coun Debra Coupar, executive member with responsibility for Safer Leeds, said the review’s remit had been to look at how the MA was meeting its aims to tackle street sex work in the defined area and where its intelligence suggested an impact.

She said: “In terms of displacement issues, our intelligence concerning this has improved immeasurably in recent years. We have not seen a significant movement of on-street sex work into other areas of south Leeds, beyond the immediate vicinity of the MA, where there has been isolated reports on occasions in different locations.”

She said Holbeck, where around 1,950 households were asked for their views, was “overwhelmingly the area of concern”.

Coun Coupar said the review team had been empowered to investigate displacement if they found evidence, significant or otherwise.

She added: “We take any instances of on-street sex work outside the boundary of the MA extremely seriously and will take appropriate action.”

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