The red light district helped sex workers stay safe (stock image) (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

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Britain's first legal ‘red light’ district is set to be scrapped by the city of Leeds.

The “pioneering and compassionate” city centre scheme allowed sex workers to operate without fear of prosecution.

It was called the Managed Approach (MA) area and was launched in the Holbeck area of the city in 2014.

Sex workers were allowed to operate without fear of prosecution during certain times to the day and within certain streets.

Some locals welcomed the move to shut it down but charities and sex workers fear it will plunge them back into a dangerous world full time.

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A sex worker waits for a customer on the streets of Holbeck
(Image: Getty Images)

One woman told how she has been taking bigger risks since the zone was suspended in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

She explained: “Because I can’t work down there I’ve accepted riskier jobs at home.”

The decision was taken because officals said the number of sex workers had fallen by 50% since 2017/2018, with an average of 22 women currently recorded a week.

Leeds City Council said it will move to a “city-wide” plan to help sex workers.

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Locals and businesses in Holbeck had campaigned for years to see the MA closed, claiming it attracted anti-social behaviour.

Local resident and Dennis Kitchen chair of the Holbeck Neighbourhood Forum, which has campaigned for the MA to be scrapped, welcomed the move but warned that it had to be planned.

“The men will not stop coming to the area,” he said. “And our main concern is the women need to be helped otherwise there’s no end to it.

“At least with the managed zone there was some kind of help and support now we’re back to square one really.

“During lockdown it has been suspended and the men have been driving around residential streets trying to pick women up.

“They approached a woman going to the shops and another woman who was waiting at the bus stop to go to work.

“This bloke waved to her and at first she thought it might be someone she knew then he asked if he could give her a lift somewhere and she realised and did report it to the police.

’Yes, we are pleased the zone has stopped but we need a good exit strategy planned out with police and the community.

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“When it was suspended the problem just migrated to the residential streets.

“We want to make sure that any punters coming to the area know the zone’s closed and it’s a ‘no go’ area.

“We don’t want men coming in and harassing ordinary citizens, which is what has been happening.”

The council said the reduction in numbers of women operating in the area was due to the impact of Covid-19 and the “comprehensive” support it had provided to sex workers.

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Paul Money, chief officer of the Safer Leeds partnership, said numbers of on-street sex workers had “significantly” declined.

He added: “Often these women have quite complex needs, but our approach has been focussing on harm-reduction to the women and to the community.”

Moya Woolven, chief executive officer of Basis Yorkshire, a charity which supports sex workers, said they were “disappointed” the council was stepping away from the “pioneering and compassionate approach”.

“As an organisation Basis remains firmly of the view that the Managed Approach remains the best way of providing as much safety as possible to sex workers who work on the street,” she said.

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They said two thirds of women surveyed by them who had been previously working in the area would prefer to have the option to work there.

The closure will be put to the council’s executive board on June 23rd and is expected to be finalised in July.