City will set up red-light district

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The Independent Online
IN AN effort to try and control the world's oldest profession, police and politicians are planning to set up a tolerance zone for prostitutes.

In what would be the first officially-sanctioned red light district in England, councillors in Middlesbrough are working with police to set up a controlled area where prostitutes could work.

The move has come amid growing concern from local people that prostitutes in the city are slowly moving from their traditional areas and are soliciting for business in residential districts.

Those involved in the tolerance zone scheme realise it is a high-risk strategy and that they could face criticism for giving the green light to the red lights.

"We are coming from the perspective that you are never going to get rid of prostitution," said Supt John Tough, of Cleveland Police.

"We are saying let's try and see if we can keep it in area away from the residents. There is a risk, of course, but I think that doing nothing is not an option. We have a duty to the people of Middlesbrough."

While the idea for tolerance zones is not new, they have never been successfully operated in any of England's cities. In Sheffield, such a plan was halted after opposition from the business community. In Edinburgh, where under Scottish law there is no offence of kerb-crawling, a tolerance zone has been operating for more than three years.

Superintendent Tough and members of Middlesbrough City Council recently visited Edinburgh on a fact-finding mission. Yesterday they reported their findings. "I was actually very impressed by what we found. There is an area away from houses where the prostitutes operate, where the police know they will be and where health and safety workers can talk to the women," said John Richardson, Middlesbrough's environment director.

"There is also a degree of self-policing. If under-age girls appear in the controlled zone, the women inform the police through a liaison officer.

"As a result, when you walk through Edinburgh you don't see any prostitues and there is no problem for residents or tourists."

The next stage of the Middlesbrough project will be to find an area in the city which everyone could agree to. It is also essential the plan has the support of the city's prostitutes and Supt Tough has had several informal meetings with them at drop-in centre.

They also need to convince the business community that trade and property prices will not be affected.

Stephen Hood, Teesside area manager of the north east Chamber of Commerce, said: "If the site selected for a controlled area of prostitution is a business area, it would be unfair that local businesses should bear the brunt of what is, after all, an illegal activity."

Many residents are behind the project. Liz Chambers, a housewife who has seen the residential Union Street area of Middlesbrough taken over by prostitutes, said: "I think the whole thing should be legalised, but if not, this could be the best way of dealing with the problem."