Residents critical of first ‘legal’ red light district

Residents are unhappy with the Leeds prostitute zone.
Residents are unhappy with the Leeds prostitute zone.
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Council and police bosses in Leeds quietly established what was thought to be the country’s first ‘legal’ red light zone almost three years ago.

But this ‘managed approach’ has come under fresh criticism from people living nearby who are complaining that the activities of the sex workers are creeping beyond the largely industrial streets in the designated area and into residential streets of Holbeck and Beeston.

Some complain of being woken by the noise of cars and the women shouting through the night, while others are more concerned by the physical evidence left lying in ginnels, the cemetery and woodlands for anyone to find.

Then there are the scantily clad women near the local shop and the church come the morning and the awkward questions from children who are too young to be asking about prostitution.

West Yorkshire Police last week met with members of Save Our Eyes, a group formed through Facebook, which has taken up the baton on behalf of residents.

Amanda Sullivan, 32, said: “People who go to work at 4am are getting approached outside their homes.

“There’s another resident who lives near Holbeck Cemetery and he’s had to start chaining up the gates at night.”

Another group member, who did not want to be named, said: “It’s not about the managed zone. We appreciate why that’s there. It’s more that they’re doing it in residential areas.”

The biggest frustration is the belief that action is not being taken when the rules are flouted.

The police have taken the unusual step of providing a dedicated mobile phone number for times when there are issues locally, although even this is not faultless.

Mrs Sullivan, 32, said: “You can ring the number up to midnight, but most of the incidents are happening outside those hours. We can report and report, and there’s nothing being done.”

Safer Leeds, the partnership of agencies behind the scheme, said: “We have worked extremely hard with partners to reduce the impact and tackle the concerns raised in the community.

“This includes, for example, changing operational hours of the managed approach, and increasing local environmental budgets to support local businesses.

“Residents, businesses and all interested parties can be fully assured that the work undertaken is under continuous review to ensure it is meeting our aims of helping vulnerable sex workers to exit the streets, enforcing against criminality and supporting the community.

“If this is not the case, further steps will be taken.”

Red Light scheme draws media focus

The ‘managed approach’ was adopted with little fanfare in October 2014 in the Holbeck area of Leeds, where the issue of prostitution had generated complaints from residents and businesses alike.

The hope was that it would encourage sex workers to access support services and to report violent crimes against them to police, while moving the women away from residential streets.

But it came under intense media scrutiny in January 2016 following the murder of Daria Pionko, a 21-year-old Polish who worked in the area.

It remained in the spotlight thanks to a BBC Three documentary series entitled Life in the Red Light Zone.