Complaints about student parties fell by 41% in the first term of the 2018-19 academic year, according to statistics compiled by the University of Bristol.
Residents cited 35 parties across the districts close to the university, down from 59 in the same period a year earlier. However, complaints about general noise rose 31%, offsetting much of the reduction (chart).
One group of students seems to play an outsize role in the complaints figures, according to a deeper analysis by the university—those who went to private schools.
(Article heading revised—see note at end.)
UoB presented the figures at a community liaison meeting with residents’ groups before Christmas (see end-notes). The data covers August to December, although the university year doesn’t commence officially until the Welcome Week in late September.
Total complaints, taking in waste and recycling, anti-social behaviour and parking, remained virtually the same, at 128 compared with 129 in the first term a year earlier.
Redland still a hotspot
A breakdown by district also shows little change. Redland remained top of the complaints league, followed by Clifton, with Cotham and Kingsdown some way behind.
Redland’s share went up slightly, to 52% from 46%. The university’s community liaison manager, Joni Lloyd, has told me by email that Redland accounted for 17 out of the 35 party complaints. She also says: “I received many of my noise complaints this term from Redland—42 out of 77.”
The university’s definition of Redland extends eastwards from Whiteladies Road and includes (from north to south) the Manor Park, Chandos Road and Waverley/Ravenswood areas, all of which have concentrations of students and have historically been hotspots for noise and parties.
Of the total 128 complaints, 53 resulted in student households being called to a disciplinary hearing with Joni Lloyd, who can impose fines of £100 per household member and/or require students to pay £50 each to attend a newly introduced Anti-Social Behaviour Impact Awareness session. Her December report said 12 households had been required to attend the ASB session and three also received £100 fines.
“Feedback from the community is that a £100 fine alone is meaningless,” she said. “Imposing the ASB Impact Awareness session requires students to commit some money, time and attention to the impact of ASB on communities.”
Students appeal against penalties
Students who don’t receive penalties are required to sign an acknowledgement of the complaint and agree actions “to minimise noise disturbance and respect neighbours’ rights to peace and quiet”.
However, students can appeal disciplinary decisions, and seven households have done so, according to the report. It added that a number of the appeals were still in progress and those cases are “not included in these figures”.
The most complained-about group was again second-year students, who accounted for 62% of the 711 students cited in complaints.
The report offered a glimpse into the trends underlying complaints against students, suggesting that a disproportionate number of the second-years who attracted complaints previously lived in halls in the Stoke Bishop area.
It says: "57% of Y2 students who received complaints this term, and were at North Village last year, went to independent schools, including boarding schools
“The North Village is less integrated with the city than our other Villages and those in catered halls will not have experienced shopping, cooking and recycling their waste,” the report says. “Students who have moved from boarding school to a catered hall to [the] private sector may be least experienced at living in the community.”
Comment: Overall, these figures show little has changed from the same period a year ago. A welcome drop in complaints about parties was largely offset by an upsurge in complaints about other kinds of noise. It’s too soon to jump to conclusions about what changed the mix. It would be nice to think the university’s stricter policy on fines and ASB courses played a part—because at least then we would have identified a lever that works.
Might a certain noise website have had some effect? There’s no sign of it: Complaints in Redland went up, not down. Then again, I’ve never expected to have that kind of direct impact. Change will come only when students recognise they can’t keep waking people up at night, or through tougher action by the universities, the police or the council. As residents, we should keep pushing.
The suggestion that privately-schooled students loom large in the statistics probably won’t surprise too many residents who’ve dealt with people at the scene of a party and recall the attitudes and comments they got in response.
What matters now is how UoB reacts to the overall report. The university has said it’s considering paying for night-time policing (indeed, it had hoped to reach a decision in December). There’s nothing in this report that suggests a means of tackling night-time noise is any less urgent.
1 The UoB meeting (at which I was invited to speak) took place on 11 December. However, given that the main report contains a lot of numbers, I prefer to wait for the minutes before trying to form conclusions. Those arrived on 20 December and it wasn’t possible to clarify some details until the university reconvened this past week. Hence the delay in publishing.
2 UoB usually posts the meeting minutes publicly, but the normal location is unavailable for some reason. I’ve therefore posted a copy here.
3 I've posted a separate analysis here of the incident reports collated by this website.
Revision note, 22/01/2018: I have changed the article heading following a request from the university. Community liaison manager Joni Lloyd said the headline's reference to a "boarding school link" was "inflammatory and out of context". "My analysis is intended to identify the best way that we can support our students with the transition to independent living, based on their experiences, not to apportion blame as your heading implies." (I uphold the accuracy of the headline, and there is no change to the text of the article. I have made the change in the spirit of cooperation with the university. AW)