Campaigners fighting against Leeds’ managed zone have said ‘enough is enough’ and called for a re-think over the controversial red-light area scheme.
Locals, councillors and MP Hilary Benn want the council to commission an independent review to shed light on whether the zone in Holbeck is working.
Introduced by community safety partnership Safer Leeds in October 2014, the scheme allows street sex workers to operate in parts of Holbeck during certain hours, with the aim of getting more of the women to engage with support services.
But, in a letter to Leeds City Council leader Coun Judith Blake, Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds Central, claimed the rules of the deal are not being stuck to by some sex workers in the area.
It read: “I think we all understand that this is a very complex and difficult issue with no easy answers; if the managed area was scrapped today, what would happen tomorrow? I also recognise that there have been some benefits from the innovative approach that has been taken – in particular improved relationships between the working women and the police – but my strong sense is that we cannot carry on as we are.
“I would therefore like to propose that the council and the police commission an independent review of the managed area and ask it to make recommendations about its future and changes that need to be made.
“The review should focus on what needs to be done and it should draw on the views of all of those involved, including local residents and businesses, the working women themselves, the police, councillors and the voluntary sector.”
He added that he would like the report to be available within the next few months.
Mr Benn told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “I said from the beginning that for it to work, people have to stick by the rules.
“Despite great efforts from many people, it’s fair to say that there are a number of women that are not observing the terms of the zone.
“There have been concerns for some time, and I think the time is right to bring the idea forward for a fully independent review.
“I am not suggesting this because I have any preconceived view, but the concerns are real.”
Deputy leader of Leeds City Council’s Conservatives group Coun Alan Lamb briefly raised the subject of the managed zone at a meeting of Leeds City Council’s executive committee on Wednesday.
Following the meeting, he said: “It is clear to me that it (the managed zone) has become more and more unpopular with residents and businesses who are growing sick and tired of both the reputational damage to their neighbourhoods and the impact of the ‘managed approach’ on parks, streets, green spaces and business premises.
“The time may be coming when people living in this area say ‘enough is enough’. There is an active campaign group against the approach and as councillors we receive emails from concerned individuals outlining the issues that arise from it.
“It is time for the ruling administration to prove to residents and businesses that they can make the ‘managed approach’ work, or suspend it.”
Coun Andrew Carter, leader of Leeds City Council’s Conservatives group, added: “It seems to me what we have done is give the pimps a licence to work in the city.
“This was obviously not the intention. At what point does this become blind pig-headedness that they won’t accept that they got it wrong?
“It’s typical of people theorising about addressing a problem but not accepting the unintended consequences. We need to look at this again from top to bottom.
“It is crystal clear that this has not been working, but this administration can never accept they have got something wrong – we all get things wrong from time to time, it’s human nature.”
Holbeck resident and Save Our Eyes campaign group member Claire Bentley-Smith said that, while life for residents has recently improved slightly, activity was still taking place outside the zone and in residential areas.
“We are finding condoms and needles near to schools,” she said.
“The amount of prostitution going on outside houses is crazy.
“If we say something that has not been allowed is suddenly allowed, it increases demand. You will see a huge demand in prostitution and a huge increase in girls being coerced.
“I sometimes wonder what sort of society people want to create – you are opening a Pandora’s box.
“If you live somewhere where you don’t ever see a prostitute, you don’t give it a second thought.”
Paula Brown, who is also a member of Save Our Eyes, said: “People think it’s confined to the managed zone, but it is not.
“Women living here are having to walk to bus stops in groups – it’s now too dangerous to be a woman on the streets in that area.”
Coun Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council’s executive member for communities, said: “We are fully committed to working closely with local ward councillors, community representatives and all stakeholders regarding the managed approach.
“Taking account of their views and concerns we have already changed the operational hours of the managed approach, established a dedicated policing team and increased local environmental budgets and resources to support the local community and local businesses.
“We do acknowledge that this is still work in progress and that there is more that needs to be done to fully address the concerns of local people. To further inform our thinking and actions moving forward we are continuing to meet with local residents to develop solutions that work for the local community.
“I would like to reassure all local stakeholders that our work on the managed approach is under continuous review as we seek to ensure it is meeting the original aims set, with a particular emphasis on significantly reducing the impact of on-street sex work on local residential communities.
“If these aims are not met, further steps will need to be taken and further options will have to be considered to tackle the long-standing challenges associated with on-street sex work.”