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The Noise Pages: year in review

The Noise Pages logged 95 incidents in academic 2018-19, comprising 52 parties, 30 cases of “general noise” associated with an address, and 13 instances of street noise, the perpetrators of which are usually not traceable.

Most of these incidents were in Redland and Cotham—roughly in the areas that were later chosen for the Operation Beech police patrols. (They are basically the main noise hot-spots in this part of town.)

The reports I published were based on my own observations and accounts from residents. I received 179 emails. If you were one of the people who contacted me, thanks—and keep doing so! Making this information public keeps pressure on the University of Bristol to step up its efforts.

Mostly, people sending email complaints to the university simply copied me in, which is a good way to do it. However, occasionally there were incidents I was aware of that didn’t result in a formal complaint. For that and other reasons, it’s not possible to directly compare my database with that held by the university. It collects data from a bigger area than I do, but more importantly it doesn’t release information about individual incidents, only aggregate data.

Repeated complaints

When I came to analyse the data I logged, I found some interesting insights. Contrary to the University of Bristol’s claim that its fines must be working, because few households reoffend, I found that quite a lot of addresses came up more than once—16 of them, in fact. That’s almost one-fifth of all incidents associated with an address, and it’s higher than indicated by the university’s data. (All but one of these 16 cases involved University of Bristol students. The other one featured students from the University of the West of England.)

Among other points of note, I see that three student houses in Ashgrove Road all attracted complaints, all of them more than once, and that these houses are all run by the same landlord and managing agents. That’s something I may follow up. (There were 10 reports in total for Ashgrove and a couple of adjacent locations. That’s a big number for a relatively small area.)

Large parties

A party in Waverley Road in October was possibly the loudest of the year and drew many complaints: 13 residents emailed The Noise Pages. Two other parties, at Rokeby Avenue in March and St Ronan’s Avenue in May, were less loud but are notable for having been held in defiance of official attempts to curb disturbance at the properties.

These three events, and three others—two at properties in Ashgrove Road, and one in Collingwood Road—fit the description of “large” parties.

These six events were characterised by one or more of the following: huge attendance (150 at Rokeby, 130 at Ashgrove, 120 at St Ronan’s and probably 100-plus at Waverley and the second Ashgrove event); the use of large loudspeakers to amplify the music; and the presence of doormen (“bouncers”) to control admission by reference to a printed guest list. There are often attempts—self-defeating and pointless—to contain noise within the house by using mattresses and other material to cover the windows.

Safety risks

The events often last all night and are accompanied by a stream of Ubers and taxis setting down and picking up party-goers; the slamming of car doors simply adds to the disturbance. Typically there will also be people peeing in the street or the gardens and forecourts of neighbouring properties, and vomiting on the pavement.

It is abundantly clear these events should be viewed as anti-social behaviour, not just noise. Then there are the health and safety risks to the occupants: the danger of floors collapsing, and the risks of people being trapped if fire breaks out. (And that’s before we take account of any substance abuse: nitrous oxide—“laughing gas”—and drugs.)

As I’ve reported, Chandos Neighbourhood Association, Councillor Anthony Negus (Cotham ward) and the Redland & Cotham Amenities Society have all urged the authorities to halt these kinds of events, on grounds of safety as well as noise. The police point to certain practical difficulties. How, or whether, Operation Beech will deal with those challenges, we will have to wait and see.

Personal impacts

The emails I received from residents provide an insight into the real-world effects of noise disturbance. Many inevitably mention missed sleep, which had impacts beyond mere inconvenience.

Here are two examples:

Resident, Waverley Road, 7 Oct 2018

“On a personal level the excessive noise kept me awake all night and left me feeling fatigued and has caused me unnecessary stress. Basically it has ruined my weekend.”

Resident, Lansdown Road, 20 Oct 2018

“I pulled on some clothes and went out to tell them to stop. They said they were sorry and all went inside. However ten minutes later they came out again and the shouting and screaming started again. At 3.30, I gave up and moved to a room at the back of the house. I am 73 and have a heart condition. I felt really unwell and could not calm down and get to sleep for an hour or so.”

In addition to the 179 messages about incidents, I also received dozens of emails offering information and suggestions, asking questions, or simply expressing support for the website—for which, thank you.

A similar response is also evident in subscriber numbers for my e-newsletter. There are now 215 people on the list. (You can sign up here.) And interest is not confined to Bristol. I’ve corresponded with several people who live in different parts of the country but are dealing with the same problems.

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