MAKING OVER MANLY
Manly residents don't have to cast their minds too far back to remember when a jog down The Corso at Manly on a Sunday morning meant dodging the trash from people's big night out.
In 2005, the Manly After Midnight Working Party, an initiative of the former Manly Council, uncovered the level of deep dissatisfaction residents were feeling about the alcohol-related, antisocial behaviour and number of assaults occurring in the precinct.
That year, police recorded 247 non-domestic violence assaults in the former Manly local government area - 232 of them occurred in the suburb of Manly.
This was a rate of 639 assaults per 100,000 people - higher than the rate for NSW and much higher than Warringah's rate of 227.5.
There has been a dramatic drop since then. New statistics state that in 2016, there were 198 assaults, a rate of 437 per 100,000, down seven per cent over 60 months.
This compares to 263 assaults in Warringah, a rate of 167 per 100,000.
Jean Hay, who was the Manly mayor in the early 2000s when violence was running rife in the area, remembers it well.
"There was a lot of alcohol-related antisocial [incidences] like glassings, and the hotels were staying open until 6am -that's when fights would occur," she tells Peninsula Living.
"It didn't have a good reputation and it stopped a lot of families from coming down into Manly."
At that time, community surveys revealed residents wanted all the venues shut by 2am.
So, in late 2005, Council adopted the Manly After Midnight Policy to regulate post-midnight activities in the precinct.
Over the next few years, the council - in partnership with police and venues - developed a range of initiatives to tackle the problem.
CCTV cameras were installed in the CBD and 'Night Owl' rangers patrolled the area on Friday and Saturday nights.
A breakthrough came in 2008, when Northern Beaches Local Area Commander superintendent Dave Darcy worked with the council's Community Safety Committee and local licensees to achieve voluntary closure of all hotels at 2.30am.
"Most of the hotels have 24-hour licenses and if they wanted to, they could stay open," explains Mrs Hay.
"That's why it's worked so well - they did it voluntarily and you've got to admire them for it."
The council took steps to build Manly's reputation as a family-friendly destination with events like Saturdays at Sunset and the World Food Markets, and shifted its New Year's Eve fireworks event from 12am to 9pm.
"For the last three years, all the hotels have closed at 9pm on New Year's Eve, which meant all The Corso was full of families going into restaurants," Mrs Hay explains.
"The first year it happened, the next morning on New Year's Day, Dave Darcy rang me up and said, 'I never thought I'd see a five-year-old girl standing on The Corso at 11pm licking an ice cream'."
Other strategies included the Manly Pumpkin Bus - a joint initiative of Sydney Buses, Manly Council and the Manly Liquor Licensing Accord - to help late night partygoers get home safely, a campaign to raise awareness about drink spiking, and improving safety at taxi ranks, which had become hot spots for fights.
Mrs Hay says the Manly Community Safety Committee was behind many of the successful initiatives, and she hopes a similar LGA-wide committee will reform.
The pub with one of the highest assault rates in the early 2000s was the Hotel Steyne, which has seen a huge transformation.
"Just through changed management practices, including giving food offerings during the day and turning it Ito a more country family style hotel helped. In a few weeks, Hotel Steyne went from one of the most violent to one of the safest," Supt Darcy reflects.
Huey Van, manager of Corso Bakehouse which trades until 2am on weekends, says he has noticed the difference.
“For the last two years, I didn't see any fights," he says.
"There's been a couple of fights in the last month or two [during the public holiday period].
"It's getting better - there are more police around now."
While there is no doubt the area is a calmer place, the recent statistics have shown the rate of assaults per head of population is still higher than other parts of the peninsula.
Yet Supt Darcy says Manly's assault rate will always be higher than other parts of the peninsula because the suburb attracts some 7 million visitors a year and has over 100 licensed venues.
“We're always going to have assaults in Manly simply because of the number of licensed premises and I'm surprised at how the levels of assaults have continued to drop. For example, there are no Manly hotels in the top 50 most violent in the state, whereas a number of years ago we had them in the top 10," Supt Darcy says.
"We've had a period now of seven or eight years where assaults have consistently dropped and it gets to a stage where it can't drop any more unless something significant changes in the way the place functions.".