At dusk Inner West areas turn into party parks. Photo: Michael Hitch

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By Michael Hitch

The Inner West Council has unveiled plans to tackle antisocial behaviour at Camperdown Memorial Rest Park and Fleming Street Reserve as Newtown continues to earn a reputation as the party suburb of Sydney.

The Council decided to undertake a community safety survey of the park after a reported increase of assaults, underage drinking and public urination within the park due to an increase of party-goers visiting Newtown.

The plan to tackle the antisocial behaviour includes removing lighting from open spaces at night, installing public toilets within the park, a reactivation of other community events and potentially introducing evening patrols by council rangers.

Independent Councillor, Pauline Lockie said that the problems in the park have intensified since the introduction of lock-out laws in Kings Cross caused an influx of visitors into Newtown.

“There’s been problems in that park for a number of years, but they escalated quite significantly, really since the lockout laws were introduced,” she said.

“The lock out laws haven’t so much ended violence as shifted it elsewhere. We know in Newtown that we’ve had a 300 per cent increase in visitors since the lockout laws were introduced because obviously King Street is the first late-night district that you get to outside of that zone.”

Cr Lockie said the bad behaviour in the park was sporadic and varied in severity.

“Over last summer we had a lot of complaints coming into council and police were attending to a lot of incidents out there as well. Anything from people urinating against fences right up to assault and I know there were a couple of stabbings as well,” she said.

“Even the lower level antisocial behaviour, when it’s happening every night of the weekend and you’re a resident who lives around the park, than that creates a liveability issue as well.

“A lot of long-term residents, people who were used to living next to an inner-city park and very accepting of it, were coming to us and saying, ‘we no longer feel safe going into the park after dark’.”

Since the introduction of the lockout laws which shut down Kings Cross in 2014, assaults within the park have risen from 59 in June 2015 to 89 in June 2018.

This is due to an increase in congregations of people at the park who are either preloading with alcohol early in the evening, or who are visiting the park after venues have closed.

In response, the Council proposed its ParkSafe initiative which involved partnering with NSW Police, the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre and local residents to highlight issues within the park that cause the anti-social behaviour.

Through these meetings the Council has come up with a set of proposals, including removing the globes from lights in open spaces during a trial period of six months over summer, installing public toilets within the park to prevent urination and defecation by intoxicated people, and providing opportunities for locals to reclaim the park through community events.

The Inner West Council said that the proposed actions are intended to disrupt or remove the conditions which might attract antisocial behaviour.

“An oversupply of lighting in the central green space of the park is acting as a key attractor to the anti-social behaviour after dark,” the Council said.

“Local community members have expressed a wish to reclaim the park, disrupting negative behaviours by introducing a variety of community-based initiatives during the day and into the evening.”

Evening patrols of the park by Council rangers and police have also been proposed as a solution despite concerns that an increase of authority presence could be overkill.

Local resident, Felix Petitnicolas said that he hadn’t seen extreme antisocial behaviour in his time living near the park and that the introduction of evening patrols could destroy the area’s social nature.

“Sometimes some people get a bit drunk together, some argue but there are never any really big problems with the people here,” he said.

“I think today people are too closed up in their houses and here it’s easy to spend the weekend, play guitar, have a drink.

“Closing and monitoring this place at night would kill the soul of Newtown. I mean, everything has a bad side and a good side, the bad side here can be noisy, or you can get some angry drunks but, I think essentially closing up the park is much worse.”

Cr Lockie said that increasing safe usage of the park was Council’s top priority and that striking a balance between law enforcement and civilians would be challenging, with community consultations being key to ensuring that a partnership is met.

“I’m not expecting we get everything right in the first go, it is going to be a case of trial and error and community consultations allow us to start that process as a partnership,” she said.

“With police patrols I had residents ask for more of those and other residents say that the more you get police coming in and being viewed as heavy-handed, than you affect that relationship between police and the community.”

NSW Police were contacted for comment.