Leeds MP says decision to scrap red light zone 'represents a step forward'

Leeds MP Hilary Benn has welcomed the decision to end a highly controversial scheme which allows prostitutes to ply their trade without fear of prosecution in a designated area of the city, claiming it “represents a step forward”.

A map of the Managed Approach zone in Holbeck

Leeds City Council set up the Managed Approach in Holbeck with West Yorkshire Police in 2014, in a bid to reduce the prevalence of on-street sex work and make vulnerable women working in the industry feel safer and access support.

The scheme, which has been dubbed Britain's first legal red light zone, was paused in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and earlier this week the council announced it would be discontinued, due to a significant drop in the number of sex workers in the area.

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The decision was welcomed by Holbeck residents who have spent years campaigning against the Managed Approach, claiming it has led to an increase in crime and attracted men looking to buy sex.

Holbeck residents protesting against the Managed Approach (photograph taken before Covid-19 pandemic)

The council said it will continue to run other programmes which provide support to women, but Basis Yorkshire, the charity which works with sex workers in the area, said it was disappointing to see this “pioneering and compassionate approach” has been scrapped.

Mr Benn, the Labour MP who represents Leeds Central, said: "I welcome the news that the current Managed Approach will formally come to an end.

“It’s a decision that draws on the views of local residents and on the Independent Review, and it recognises that the scheme has not operated in its previous form since the start of the pandemic.

“The aim has always been to reduce the impact of sex work on local residents. So scrapping the permitted hours and defined area, cracking down on soliciting by men and making use of public space protection orders reflects what many have been calling for and will be widely supported.

“It’s also good to see that the dedicated police support, the use of CCTV, the cleansing arrangements and help for women to exit on-street sex work will be kept in place.

“As everyone knows there has never been a simple solution to this problem, but this announcement represents a step forward.”

The council said kerb-crawlers seeking to buy sex would be targeted and public space protection orders could be introduced to give police officers the power to issue on-the-spot fines for antisocial behaviour.

Speaking earlier this week, deputy leader Debra Coupar said: "No soliciting offences will be allowed to take place at any time in the area.

"We do not want any individual seeking to buy sex on the streets of the city being encouraged in any way to return to Holbeck or to any area of Leeds."