Quiet Words ...
Here's what I would say to the various groups who play a part in the night-time noise story:
Nobody wishes to deny students the right to have fun, or to make the most of their university experience. I support the principle of students living in the community -- it's an important part of their journey. The alternative is to house students in purpose-built blocks, possibly in the city centre, isolated from the wider population. That merely stores up problems for the future. But if we are to have community living, there has to be a balance. In any densely populated area, the only way people can live in reasonable harmony is for everyone to exercise a degree of self-restraint. We may not know the people who live across the street from us; we might never even see them. But they are there, and we have obligations to them, as they do to us. This is what civilised society is about. Loud parties are akin to an act of violence. Students who, I am sure, would never assault someone they met on the street seem oddly prepared to propagate noise into nearby homes and rob their occupants of a good night's rest. The university has recognised the need for restraint by producing a set of guidelines to reduce night-time noise. They can be seen here. We ask students to follow them.
University of Bristol
The university and its students bring energy and economic benefits to Bristol. The city and the districts around the main campus are more vibrant than they otherwise would be. But we cannot pay just any price for these advantages. There are serious pressures on the community. Students congregate in Redland, Cotham and adjoining areas because to all intents and purposes, the university put them here. Yes, they are in privately rented accommodation, but that's because the university has decided, like many of its peers, not to provide halls for second- and third-years. They therefore cluster in rented houses within walking distance of their lecture halls. UoB may not be legally responsible for what students do in this off-campus accommodation, but that's a thin claim. Interestingly, the university is prepared to discipline students for what they do off-campus if it considers their behaviour puts at risk the good name of the institution itself. Hence it handles residents' complaints about noise disturbances. Yet even on this narrow basis, the university is failing to reach its goal. If it wishes to protect its reputation with the public, it must do more. So far it has been surprisingly unimaginative.
Property Owners and Agents
The interests of owners, agents and residents may differ, but they overlap sufficiently that we should be working together. Most owners would surely be embarrassed to learn their houses had been used in a way that annoyed a whole street of residents. And since many student houses are licensed House in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), owners are obligated to observe a code of good management. (See here.) More broadly, are owners happy to have dozens (or scores) of party-goers crammed into their property? Are the floors, stairs and banisters strong enough? How many toilets serve this crowd? (The owner of a house in Collingwood Road found the toilets had blocked, leading to a leak into the basement. That's a costly repair.) Will the insurers pick up the tab -- or will the owner be left to seek reimbursement from the students' guarantors (their parents)? Owners and managing agents might want to ponder whether their tenancy agreements would enable them to halt such an event if they needed to. Managing agents and letting agents also have a crucial role to play in telling students what they're getting into when they rent a property -- something many second-years will never have done before. Do the students know they may be going into an area of longstanding sensitivity among residents to noise issues? Does their agreement have a "quiet after 10pm" clause or similar, or maybe even a no-parties clause? Were these explicitly explained at the time the students signed up, and again when they moved in? (There's a long summer break in between.) And finally, do owners and agents have a process for handling complaints about tenants, if any are forthcoming? The HMO regulations require it. Note, too, that Bristol City Council proposes to bring all HMO property near the city centre into a licensing regime. (As of September 2018, this is still awaiting approval.)
I believe change is possible if we gather the evidence and focus our efforts. I can't say how long it will take, but we should try. I suspect people and groups are already doing this, but that there's not enough communication between us. This site is an attempt to address that. If you've been affected by a late-night student party or rowdyism on the streets, or are active on these issues, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We may be able to help each other. (I'm focusing purely on student events; I can't get involved in ordinary neighbour-to-neighbour disputes.) Even more important, please get in touch if you hear that a party is planned. If it appears the event is likely to breach the UoB guidelines (see here), then together we might be able to get it changed or halted. Lastly, you can subscribe to the site (see the Home page) to stay in touch. I will not send out alerts of every news item: just important ones or perhaps a periodic recap of what's been happening.
Policymakers and public officials
The fact that a very obvious noise problem has defied solution for so long in a densely populated area such as ours surely has to count as a failure of public policy. I'm pretty sure that for many residents, the actual harm caused by noise disturbance is magnified many-fold by the discovery that no one will take responsibility for addressing it. The law, as I've said, is a mess. And it is now compounded by the spending cuts suffered by both the police and the council. My fear is that if we allow this vacuum to persist, then somewhere, some night, there will be an angry encounter from which no one will emerge well. Can we for once act before that event instead of going through the whole "lessons learned" routine afterwards? If you're a councillor or senior public official with something to contribute, please get in touch. I'm happy to use the site to broadcast any message that's likely to be useful to residents grappling with these issues.
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