The scheme was launched in 2014 (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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The UK's first official red light zone is to shut down nearly seven years later after plummeting numbers of sex workers during the pandemic.

The scheme – known as the Holbeck Managed Approach was first launched in 2014, becoming the only place in the country where on-street sex work was legalised.

Prostitutes were allowed to solicit for punters at certain times overnight without the fear of being arrested in the £200,000 a year scheme, Leeds Live reports.

It was set up in a bid to make sex work safer for women, but quickly became a point of contention among nearby residents.

Locals claimed sexual activity spilled onto their streets, while others said women and young children were approached by men who came to the area looking for sex.

Local residents had railed against it
(Image: © Glen Minikin)

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

On Tuesday, Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Police announced that the Holbeck Managed Approach would 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.

"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.

It was launched to make sex work safer for women
(Image: © Glen Minikin)

"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.

"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.

It was officially closed last year due to Covid
(Image: Getty Images)

The cost of the scheme was about £200,000 a year
(Image: Getty Images)

"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.

Figures show the number of women in street sex work in Holbeck has fallen by around 50 per cent 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.

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"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."

Responding to the news, a spokesperson for the Save our Eyes and Voice of Holbeck campaign groups said: "By 2017, it became clear that there were major failings and that the women it was intended to help could not respect either the operational area or the operational hours.

"This led to a huge detrimental impact on the residents living nearby, whose streets were taken over by prostitution and kerb crawling in addition to the allocated streets.

"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."