THE working girls of Mayfair have defeated an attempt by Westminster Council to close their businesses, by using planning laws against the Town Hall.
Vice police raided several flats in Shepherd Market, near Green Park, which have for decades been used for prostitution and reported them to the council’s planning department.
The council then sent letters to eight prostitutes announcing an investigation into a ‘change of use from residential accommodation’ – a breach of planning law.
But this week it was forced into a climbdown, closing the investigation after the women proved they had been working out of the addresses for more than 10 years.
“The women have been working here safely for more than a decade, which means they haven’t ‘changed use’ of the properties,” said Nicki Adams, of the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP).
“The woman are a welcome part of the community here and should be allowed to run their businesses without hassle from the police or council.
“Our priority is their safety and that should be the main consideration of the council and police. Instead, they seem intent on trying to close them down.”
The council letter to Shepherd Market’s working ladies follows on from closure orders issued to brothels across the borough.
In February, Met police closed a longstanding brothel in Dean Street, Soho, only to have the decision overturned by magistrates.
The ECP has been campaigning against the closure of the estimated 60-100 flats used by prostitutes across the borough.
It says women will be forced on to the streets where they will face increased dangers.
The campaign has gathered pace in the wake of the Home Office review of the laws governing prostitution.
The new Policing and Crime Bill, currently passing through Parliament, aims to curb sex trafficking and protect women from being coerced into the sex trade.
But opponents say it criminalises men paying for consensual sex with a prostitute and women who employ maids or other workers to help them – damaging their business and forcing them to take greater risks.
Rosemarie MacQueen, the council’s strategic director for built environment, said: “We have strict planning policies to prevent homes being used primarily for business due to the detrimental impact this would have on local communities.
“The nature of the business is completely irrelevant, the role of this policy is to safeguard residential areas. This is particularly important in Westminster due to the large demand for commercial property, which could very quickly price out residents and change the character of the city forever.
“Sadly, in cases where a business is able to prove that they have been operating from a certain address for over a decade, our powers to enforce are much reduced.”
MEGAN, a London prostitute for 25 years, has worked out of a Shepherd Market flat for 15 years:
“It’s a little village here and we couldn’t work in a better place. Over the years we have had a great relationship with the police.Whenever they need help tracing a girl who has gone missing they come up and ask our help, because we are open and know everybody. The eight girls here in the flats have all been working for a long time.I don’t know why suddenly we have become the enemy.
“The community supports us and perhaps the council did not realise that when they started sending threatening letters out.
“This is a tough industry and the Government and local council are making it tougher for us to work in the safety of our flats. I know there are problems with sex trafficking and young girls being forced to work as prostitutes. It’s terrible and must be stopped, but it’s not because of us.
“Just because we have a flat we are easy targets for the authorities. It’s a hard time for us, the recession is hitting our clients and the new laws are making them scared to come to us – even if they’ve been with us for years. If the police carry on raiding us, we will lose customers and then be forced on to the streets. We will then be in the same danger as the women the police say they want to protect. It doesn’t make sense.
“But we will stand firm and fight any attempts to close us down. This is the oldest business in the world and we’re not going anywhere.”