Campaigners 'reassured' red light zone would be shut down before city centre regeneration was completed

Campaigners claim they were “repeatedly reassured” a scheme which allows prostitutes to ply their trade without fear of prosecution in a zone in Leeds would be shut down before a multi-million pound regeneration was completed nearby.

Leeds City Council, which set up a highly controversial scheme called the Managed Approach with West Yorkshire Police in 2014, says it will “continue to evolve as is necessary”.

But land near the zone in Holbeck has been earmarked for a major council-run project called South Bank Leeds, which promises to double the size of the city centre by converting vacant industrial sites into a modern neighbourhood, with thousands of new apartments, offices, shops, restaurants and a city centre park.

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The Grade I listed former flax mill Temple Works, which is being redeveloped as part of the project and could soon become the new British Library North, is less than half a mile from the edge of the Managed Approach zone.

Protesters in Holbeck calling for the Managed Approach to be scrapped, in September 2018

The Save Our Eyes group, made up of locals calling for the scheme to be scrapped, claim the Managed Approach was supposed to be a “temporary measure” and they were assured by the council that it “won't be there once the South Bank is redeveloped and residents move in”.

“The whole point of the current industrial location being chosen was to reduce prostitution in residential areas,” said a group spokeswoman.

“That aim backfired due to the Managed Approach attracting far more kerb crawlers and punters from further afield and the women to meet that demand.”

She added: “As the South Bank is redeveloped the new areas will have CCTV and private security guards so kerb crawling won't be possible there due to the risks of punters being identified. We need better protection for the existing communities and have been calling for an exit strategy for several years.”

A map of the Managed Approach zone in Holbeck

Ben Mallinson, principal of The Ruth Gorse Academy, said the school is preparing to accept some of the children who will move into the South Bank area, but he believes their families may not realise the Managed Approach is on their doorstep.

“As a parent, if you're choosing to live or to move into that area, how well publicised is it that it’s very close to if not within the Managed Approach Zone?" he said.

“We think it constitutes a significant safeguarding concern for young people.

“There have been concerns about abduction and there’s an array of sex litter and drugs paraphernalia. No child should have to walk to and from school experiencing that. It’s not okay.”

Despite mounting pressure, last year the council announced the Managed Approach will remain in place indefinitely after it commissioned an independent review which found the scheme has reduced the prevalence of prostitution, reduced the impact it has on people living in Holbeck and “significantly improved" the safety of sex workers.

The scheme, which allows sex workers to ply their trade in a designated zone between 8pm and 6am, was set to make the often-vulnerable women working in the industry feel safer and encourage them to report any attacks and abuse.

The council said no one was available for interview, but provided a statement which says the Managed Approach "continue to evolve as is necessary to the current circumstances of sex work in the Holbeck area."

It adds: "We will fully take into account and consider how the approach may evolve in the future due to a range of factors such as different development and regeneration projects in the area. An integral component of this work will include close engagement with the community and other stakeholders.