UK’s only legal ‘Red Light District’ shuts after years of controversy

Britain's only legal 'red light district' will be scrapped and outlawed after mounting pressure.

Leeds residents have complained of sex spilling onto their streets and 'sex tourists' approaching women and children in the Holbeck area of the city.

Since 2014, prostitutes have been able to operate freely on several connected roads under the Holbeck Managed Approach to make their work safer.

Time has now been called on the controversial scheme after seven years of being the only place in the UK where sex workers could solicit for punters in public, without facing handcuffs.

Several protests were held against the scheme, despite figures revealing it made sex workers feel safer, LeedsLive reports.

Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Police announced on Tuesday that the Holbeck Managed Approach will formally close, just a year after a £50,000 independent review suggested it should continue without any cutbacks.

Support will continue to be given to sex workers and the council says it "remains committed to managing on-street sex work in the most appropriate manner possible in order to reduce harm associated with on-street sex work".

A police presence will also be maintained for their safety, but women will no longer be allowed to freely work on the streets of Holbeck.

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"I accept that it has been a bumpy road for some of the residents in the local community," said Cllr Debra Coupar, deputy leader of Leeds City Council.

"What I would say is that we have had many benefits from the Managed Approach; the policing resources and the cleansing resources.

"I accept that over the years the benefits have not always been sustained, but over the last two or three years, we have put dedicated resources which have made a huge difference to the people in Holbeck.

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"But I'll leave it to the residents to judge whether it was a success or not."

The Managed Approach has officially been closed since last year when the Safer Leeds Partnership executed emergency measures to temporarily shut the zone due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"All powers will be used to prevent the sale or purchase of sex in the area," said a statement in March 2020.

The temporary decision will effectively be continued indefinitely, although continued support will be given to sex workers in a bid to help them exit the industry.

There are also plans to introduce a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) on certain residential streets to tackle anti-social behaviour and on-street drinking.

Figures show the number of women in street sex work in Holbeck has fallen by around 50% since 2017, although there are still an estimated 22 women working as prostitutes in the area.

"We have to acknowledge that the pandemic has had an impact in terms of those numbers," said Paul Money, chief officer of the Safer Leeds partnership.

"There is a risk that when social distancing restrictions are fully lifted, we could see an increase, but our intelligence is not telling us that it will be a significant increase."

A spokesperson for the Save our Eyes and Voice of Holbeck campaign groups said: "We are pleased to hear that some of our recommendations are being adopted, such as banning kerb crawling and punters on foot. Men who prey on vulnerable women in street prostitution are no longer welcome or tolerated in Holbeck."

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