Council and police chiefs have been urged to rethink a “managed area” for prostitution in Leeds amid mounting claims that it has failed to address the problem.
The Yorkshire Evening Post revealed exclusively last month that the scheme – under which sex workers are allowed to ply their trade in part of Holbeck between 7pm and 7am – had been made permanent after a 12-month pilot.
Safer Leeds – a partnership of police, council and other agencies – said complaints from residents had fallen and sex workers were more likely to report crimes since the policy was introduced.
But politicians from opposing sides have questioned whether it has been a success.
Hilary Benn, Labour MP for Leeds Central, has raised concerns that residents were not consulted before the decision was taken to extend the scheme indefinitely.
He added: “The area can only work if both the hours and the boundaries are properly enforced and, judging by the complaints I have been receiving from local residents and businesses alike, this is simply not happening well enough at the moment.
“That needs to change if the community is to have confidence in the scheme. In addition, proper arrangements need to be put into place by the council to clean up every morning so that people working in local businesses don’t have to confront the results of the previous night’s activities.”
Debate surrounding the safety of women working in the managed area intensified following the murder of 21-year-old Daria Pionko on December 23.
Coun Andrew Carter, leader of the Tory opposition on the Labour-run Leeds City Council, said he had concerns about incidents of violence, as well as problems with anti-social behaviour and littering and urged civic leaders needed to “cut their losses”.
He said: “I can’t see any way of them making it acceptable. If it isn’t workable, it isn’t workable and it should be scrapped,”
Mr Carter said publicity surrounding the managed areas was causing Leeds huge “reputational damage”.
A Safer Leeds spokesman said officials were “listening”, adding: “The whole purpose of this scheme is to reduce a long-standing nuisance over 15 years to businesses and residents in this area.
“Previous enforcement measures to tackle the problem had been unsuccessful, and this is an attempt to reduce the impact on both local residents and businesses, while also increasing support for sex workers to exit this way of life.
“The police and the council will respond to the issues raised by taking all measures, including enforcement, to ensure that the original purpose of the scheme is realised.
“We accept that the term managed area has become somewhat misunderstood. This was never about designating a fixed area for the city but about tackling an existing problem in the area in a new way with benefits for all. The council is completely committed to creating a better future for Holbeck, its people and businesses.”