Locations around Little Bridge Street, including the Coles car park and Bridge Mall, are considered the most dangerous areas in Ballarat according to new data.
The results of City of Ballarat’s Right to the Night study were released on Tuesday. The project encouraged women to ‘pin’ CBD locations where they feel safe and unsafe on an app.
Around 150 residents shared their thoughts on 305 locations across the city, with Lydiard and Sturt streets considered the safest areas for women.
Seven recommendations were also handed down in the report. These include improving public safety in the Little Bridge Street/Coles car park area, and providing practical lighting, litter and footpath inventions in areas deemed unsafe.
SEE THE RIGHT TO THE NIGHT MAP HERE
After a number of responses complaining about low lighting in the hospital precinct – with many female staff having to walk distances to their cars – another recommendation was increasing all day parking in the area.
Right to the Night report consultant Alison Peipers said the responses to the Coles car park near Little Bridge Street were stark, and “several people said they just don’t shop there anymore”.
“The first thing that stood out was the public behaviour of intimidating, unpredictable people,” she said. “The suggestion is for council and others to look at a multi-stakeholder approach to deal with loitering and anti-social behaviour.
“Now that’s not an easy task, but that’s what the data is saying.”
The project has garnered acclaim, receiving the Innovation to Create More Liveable and Collaborative Communities prize at the Australian Local Government Association Awards.
What can we do about safety?
After a major push to map Ballarat’s best and worst areas for perceived safety, our community organisations are banding together to make a change.
With the Right to the Night findings released on Tuesday, the city’s police, health organisations, universities and major employers are ready to see some improvement.
A forum held as part of the launch pinpointed the need for better public transport, improved mental health services and higher public amenity as solves to improve the view of safety in our hotspots.
But a common thread ran through the discussion: domestic violence is a greater danger to women than assaults in public.
Women’s Health Grampians CEO Marianne Hendron said a reduction in community mental health services was one "underlying issue” contributing to lower perceptions of safety.
“There’s no doubt that women are more likely to experience violence in their homes, while men are more likely to experience it in public places,” she said.
“But this isn’t an either/or approach. Through all of this, we’re trying to promote a community and city that is based on respect and inclusion, where we are mutually responsible for each other.
“Rather than associating violence with people who are homeless, it’s about recognising that people who are homeless or experiencing mental health issues are more vulnerable to being the victims of violence.”
With one of the key areas of concern being the Little Bridge Street bus interchange, Ballarat police have welcomed a recent law change which allows Protective Service Officers (PSOs) to patrols areas such as transport hubs.
Inspector Dan Davison said it was really exciting for them to have an “additional piece of arsenal” in their kit to deal with anti-social behaviour at the bus interchange.
What [Right to the Night] did allow us to do was nail down a few of those areas of concern to residents.Inspector Dan Davison
“We knew that the Little Bridge Street area, bus interchange and Coles car park were hotspots of public concern … but the offences we’re getting there are really those unruly, anti-social behaviours and street nuisance offences.
“As for actual offences committed, it certainly doesn’t stand out as a great hotspot for us. Family violence and the risk of being assaulted in your own home unfortunately is a reality that’s more likely.
“We need to use this as a launch pad and work collaboratively to target some of the issues. We need a more strategic approach to the areas identified.”
Ballarat mayor Samantha McIntosh said a broader vision was needed, as opposed to the city just putting “lights in laneways” to improve perception.
“That’s not necessarily the solution in all areas,” she said. “It’s not just about CCTV or police being on the street, or encouraging activity in certain area … all those things together with a collaborative approach definitely makes a big difference.”
Inspector Davison said the hospital precinct’s perception of danger didn’t line up with the statistics of assault, but most thefts of cars and from cars were in areas where a glut of motor vehicles were parked.
“If you get seedy characters coming and committing those offences against property … then clearly people are going to feel a little uneasy.”
FedUni Student Connect director Jeremie van Delft said they had partnered the project to understand the safety concerns of their primarily-female cohort in Camp Street.
“On the positive side, the entertainment precinct appears to be quite safe,” he said. “We seem to be doing the right thing there, no alarms around safety in Lydiard Street and near our campus.”
“There’s broader safety concern for the students who may need to commute at night.”
A lot of our students use public transport. The bus interchange is an area of concern, and those safety concerns can follows students from the bus stop onto the buses.Federation University's Jeremie van Delft
Ms Hendron agreed that a focus on “having a more responsive, reliable and accessible public transport system” would alleviate some of the concerns shared by hospital staff around having to walk late at night back to their cars.
Mr van Delft said while there’s genuine safety concerns, a belief that areas were unsafe could also be driven by litter and graffiti, so “we need to do more in our community around public amenities, keeping areas clean and well maintained.”