Grant Woodward: Time to end red light district

Mourners lay flowers at the spot in Leeds' managed red light area where prostitute Daria Pionko was found dying. 
Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

Mourners lay flowers at the spot in Leeds' managed red light area where prostitute Daria Pionko was found dying. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

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It’s not safe for the prostitutes – and it’s not fair on everyone else.

A CITY sets up a “managed” red light district to keep sex workers safe. Before the trial period is out, a prostitute is found murdered in the street.

But rather than reckoning this is proof their plan hasn’t worked and heading back to the drawing board, the powers that be decide to plough on and make it permanent.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But that’s what’s happened in Leeds.

I don’t doubt the council and police were acting with the best of intentions when they turned over a chunk of Holbeck to the sex trade.

But they seem to forget that businesses still operate there, people still use the streets.

So I dodge used condoms and needles when I park up for work in the morning. I get propositioned on my way back from the office at night.

I pass the shrine to murdered prostitute Daria Pionko and wonder how anyone could ever think this was a good idea.

The argument is that the zero tolerance approach wasn’t working. So even though soliciting and kerb-crawling are illegal, the police have agreed to turn a blind eye as long as it goes on in this warren of streets between 7pm and 7am.

But all it’s done is plonk the problem on someone else’s doorstep.

There’s a lovely piano shop slap bang in the middle of the “managed zone”, a decent cafe and plenty of other businesses.

Funnily enough, many aren’t particularly happy about what goes on there after dark.

You can’t blame them when their female staff members are scared to venture out alone at the end of each working day and they find themselves stepping over evidence of the previous night’s activities every morning.

And shouldn’t Leeds want to encourage people and companies to move into places like Holbeck? To build on the success of things like the Round Foundry?

After all, it’s not far from the city centre, it’s handy for the motorway and has bags of potential.

With a bit of investment the area could thrive. Instead, once night falls, it’s like something out of Escape from New York. And doesn’t it feel odd that in a place striving to be a “child friendly city” we don’t have a city centre park but we do have an official red light district?

The police and council say the managed area at least gives them some control over the trade and ensures the girls feel they can go to them when something happens without fear of prosecution.

Without this zone, they’ll say, you just drive the city’s sex trade back to the margins where we don’t know what’s going on and can’t do anything about it.

But the truth is prostitution has an innate need to be visible because otherwise the punters won’t know where to go for their kicks, which means the authorities should be able to keep tabs on it.

As for being managed, the police patrols in Holbeck clearly weren’t enough to save Daria.

So what would make it safe for the city’s prostitutes to ply their trade on its streets?

The answer, I’m afraid, is nothing.

In fact, the Holbeck scheme is arguably the worst possible solution. It encourages women to walk dark streets and get into cars with complete strangers.

So I’d like to see the police take a hardline approach. Don’t prosecute the prostitutes but scare the punters away.

Take them to court, name and shame them. We’ll print their mugshots in the YEP. The fear of losing your job and family can act as a powerful deterrent.

But if resources won’t allow that then, ironically, we need to take this red light zone a stage further and run it from an approved building.

Keep the girls indoors, employ security and monitor their health. It’s worked in places like New Zealand, so why not give it a go?

At the moment, the Holbeck scheme is the worst of both worlds.

It’s not working for the residents, it’s not working for the businesses and it certainly didn’t work for Daria.

I see pride, not poverty

THIS week the YEP website took a trip down memory lane with photos taken in Leeds nearly half a century ago.

They showed children playing on cobbled streets filled with back-to-back housing and gable end adverts for the likes of Bile Beans.

Dating from the late 1960s, they were shot by Nick Hedges on a commission from housing and homelessness charity Shelter.

The idea was to show the plight of the inner cities and the photographer recalled being “shocked to the core” by “the poverty and terrible conditions” he found here.

The funny thing is though, that when I looked at the pictures I didn’t see grinding poverty and hopelessness.

The kids were smiling and playing outdoors with their mates rather than sitting sullenly with their faces stuck in smartphones.

The streets looked spotless. There wasn’t a scrap of litter and the front step of every house looked like it had been polished within an inch of its life.

There was no graffiti on the walls, not a single bar on a window and I’d bet every single door was unlocked.

Given the lack of pride shown in some corners of Leeds these days I wonder how many would go back to that age in a heartbeat.

And given the survey this week that claimed British kids are among the most miserable in the world, I reckon some of today’s youngsters could get a kick out of a spot of time travel too.

Kids are pricey but cuddles are free

IT’S now cheaper to buy a house than raise a child in Yorkshire. That’s according to research put out the other day by the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

They totted it up and arrived at a figure of £214,559, which apparently covers kids from birth to the age of 21.

Obviously that’s a heck of a lot of money. But looking at the numbers it’s best to take them with a pinch of salt.

Put it this way, I certainly haven’t spent £126,000 on my four-year-old twins – but according to this report that’s what the running total should be.

Of course it isn’t cheap to raise children, which is you should do the sums before you have them.

The problem, as I see it, is spiralling house prices, which means both parents often have to work and spend a small fortune on childcare.

But at the end of the day, what every child craves is love and attention from their mum and dad. And last time I checked, both those were free.

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