‘Managed area’ is not working

There’s been a lot of debate in Holbeck recently about the ‘managed area’ for prostitution.

Water Lane, Holbeck. Photo John Lord via Creative Commons
Water Lane, Holbeck. Photo John Lord via Creative Commons

The story goes as follows. There’s long been prostitution in the area and it has caused nuisance and distress to local residents. The police have tried their normal approach although according to research by York University it has “made very little difference to local residents and to the numbers of complaints” and there are groups, like the Joanna project and the Basis Sex Work Project, that support the sex workers and, in some cases, help them to leave behind prostitution as a way of life.

In the light of all this, the Council and the police decided to try something different. They announced a trial in which the women could work in a specified area away from people’s homes – the ‘managed area’ – but only between the hours of 7pm and 7am to try to limit the problems to local residents and businesses.

The police and the Council say that this trial scheme has resulted in greater safety for the women concerned as it has enabled police officers to build up trust with the sex workers, which has had positive results, including two convictions of men for violent sex offences last year. They also say that there have been fewer complaints from members of the public.

However, businesses in the managed area have complained strongly to me that they have to step over used condoms and other public health hazards on their way to work in the morning, and both businesses and residents say that some of the women are not adhering either to the boundaries of the area or the ‘working hours’. There have also been complaints of men in cars trying to solicit sex from women who are walking home or to and from work both inside and outside the area and, of course, there was the recent tragic murder of a sex worker in Holbeck.

The current flurry of publicity has been the result of the Council deciding to make the trial scheme permanent, which has come as a surprise to people locally. I’ve made representations about this lack of consultation and there will shortly be a meeting with local businesses to discuss the scheme.

My view on all this is as follows. Not for nothing is prostitution described as the oldest profession in the world and it has always been present in the city, including in Holbeck. Because of this and the evidence that a change of approach might be helpful, it was thought worth trying out the idea of a managed area. The safety of women must be taken seriously and for too long often quite vulnerable women have been the unseen and unheard victims of sexual crimes. But the area can only work if both the hours and the boundaries are properly enforced and judging by the complaints I have been receiving from local residents and businesses alike, this is simply not happening well enough at the moment. That needs to change if the community is to have confidence in the scheme. In addition, proper arrangements need to be put into place by the Council to clean up every morning so that people working in local businesses don’t have to confront the results of the previous night’s activities.

It’s an issue that divides opinion and provokes strong reactions, but it’s also a social problem in which we need to balance the concerns of residents and businesses with the safety of the women working on the street. What do you think?


To change tack completely, in recent weeks there have been two lobbies in Parliament about the scrapping of grants for students from low income backgrounds and student nurses and midwives and replacing them with loans. The fear is that this will force students from low-income backgrounds to take out additional loans which they will eventually need to repay.

I am opposed to both changes because we need to do all we can to encourage young people from South Leeds who want to go to university to be able to do so. Although the proportion of young people going into higher education from the Leeds Central constituency has risen quite a bit in the last 20 years, the difference nationally in participation rates between young people living in the most advantaged and most disadvantaged communities remains far too high. We need to change that and turning grants into loans is not going to help.


7 Replies to “‘Managed area’ is not working”

  1. Interesting piece – I’m grateful for the admission that the proposal isn’t working, and also that further discussions need to be held with local businesses without undue delay.

    It is clear that the council along with the police knew that there would be a backlash from residents, and therefore decided to keep the proposals from the general public.

    And now, following a murder and the expose of sex workers coming to Leeds from elsewhere to ply their trade both in and outside the unsafe, non-managed area, residents have become fed up and want something done.

    One question I would love to know the answer to is what input the ward councillors for Beeston &amp Holbeck, and City &amp Hunslet had both initially, and throughout the scheme’s duration – it is no good being complicit and now engaging in phoney outrage with elections around the corner… though I expect we’ll see it as usual.

    Any self respecting councillor wouldn’t allow this to go on in their patch without kicking up a serious stink – instead it seems the whips have their way and the residents come second, yet again.

    As for Cllr Dobson, he simply must go.

    The debate around prostitution needs to be widened and the least worst solution found and agreed upon. That certainly isn’t achieved by turning a blind eye to people breaking the law. What next? Robbery areas?!

    1. dont think this would work now the women/girls that work in the safe zone have crept back to the main road area for their own safety even with police on duty to manage the area a young women lost her life. Stories like Yorkshire Ripper spring to mind the girls are fearful so wont work there

  2. Hi Hilary:

    I have lived in Holbeck for the past ten years with the ‘unofficial’ prostitution area on my doorstep. It is an intimidating area particularly after dark. I totally agree that prostitution is a reality and after the recent murder of the Polish worker, something drastic needed to be done. But like you say, if the scheme is only monitored half-heartedly then it will never be a success. The boundaries need to be enforced, the council needs to clean up every morning so that local businesses are not affected and any prostitutes working outside the area must be fined. I would rather see the trade disappear from Holbeck altogether but am wise enough to realise that will never happen. Therefore the safety of the workers involved in the trade MUST be the number 1 priority.

    1. Hi Claire. Why do you think that removing street prostitution from Holbeck will never happen? Surely there is nothing particularly different or odd about Holbeck or the people that live there that means the area has to suffer from this?
      The fact is everything can be fixed given the resources and willpower. Unfortunately though, that’s where the problem really lays.
      Our council and police have decided not to deploy the resources needed to resolve the problem. Instead they have decided that the residents and businesses in Holbeck have to put up with it.

      1. Hello Rich:

        Holbeck has always been synonymous with prostitution and to a certain extent, I think the area invites it: a stone’s throw away from the city centre, desolate and dimly lit streets, run down housing and general despair (I have lived here for 10 years).

        The whole area needs a facelift and with the new council housing around the park I HOPE it is moving in the right direction.

        I feel that councillors overlook south Leeds – compare a walk around leafy Chapel Allerton in the north of the city to a stroll around Holbeck or Beeston. The latter areas look like they have been forgotten about – litter strewn everywhere, a dour atmosphere……

        Fingers crossed for a brighter future for the south.

  3. We need to understand what the real consequence have been for this “managed zone”.
    By decriminalising prostitution in the area, the police and council have formalised what can only be considered as a criminal marketplace in Holbeck. They have created conditions which are attracting prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers and their seedy clients into the area from far and wide.
    This abdication of responsibility for upholding the law is shameful. It’s an insult to the resident and those which do business in Holbeck and has only served to impose a blight on the whole of South Leeds.
    Those involved in making this decision need to accept reality and what has actually happened. They should be putting their efforts into recovery of the situation – not ignoring the problem or blaming others ….

    1. Completely agree.

      The complete failure to consider unintended consequences or rather, the decision to ignore them… pretty damning.

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