Row over new Leeds drop-in centre for prostitutes

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Plans for a new drop-in centre for prostitutes in a Leeds suburb have drawn strong opposition from some locals.

The Joanna charity, which runs a support service for working girls, wants to move its base from the city centre to Holbeck, which has previously been dubbed the city’s “red light district”.

The charity has submitted a planning application to change an unused residential caretaker’s building in Sydenham Street, off Domestic Street, to a counselling and educational support service.

However, some locals say the building is too near housing, and the new centre will draw more prostitutes into the area.

Steven Peacock, who chairs a local residents’ association, said: “ I am extremely annoyed and upset at the prospect of more prostitutes being drawn into the area to make use of the services provided there. I have personally been involved in the campaign to rid our streets of prostitutes since 2004 and in recent times the police and other authorities seem to have done a very good job in reducing the blight on our area. However, figures from 2004 suggested there were 170 or more prostitutes on the streets in Leeds. I am further outraged by the lack of prior information and the timing of this application.”

Jackie Hird, project-co ordinator for Joanna, said there had been lengthy discussions with local councillors on the issue.

“People say ‘we don’t want Holbeck to be a red light district’, but it is,” she said. “They are 10 years too late with that.”

“We want a building that is accessible for people who are already there,” she added. “It’s a very small building and we are only a very small charity.

“When we do our outreach work we meet women who don’t have an address or a phone. Our whole aim is to help them EXIT prostitution. We want to solve the problem, not exacerbate it.”

She added the building would be in an industrial area and “discreet” without any signs.

“This is a low-key approach to helping women who are already in those situations,” she said.

Despite the concerns, there has been support for the initiative.

Writing in response to Mr Peacock’s concerns, online commentator Dave Florence said: “I can’t imagine that a centre like this is going to attract prostitutes to Holbeck, but it will help the ones that use the area to move away from the street work that nobody likes the idea of them doing. Why wouldn’t anybody want a centre to be set up to help rid the area of prostitution?”

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