Reporter Sarah Sturdey, has been investigating the dilemma of neighbours from hell. She spent time with noise abatement teams across the East Midlands to find out how they are tackling this growing problem.
Tackling noise nuisance
It’s early evening on a cold Saturday night in February and a tenant has phoned an out of hours complaints phone line for noisy neighbours. Within a few minutes two Derby City Council response officers who work four nights a week into the early hours have responded.
“They can hear the loud music thumping next door. The complainant says it’s the fourth time he’s phoned the council.
The officers can hear the noise for themselves so, as independent witnesses, they are able to visit next door and warn the neighbouring tenant to pipe down. They will issue a Noise Abatement Notice and if he does not comply he will have his audio equipment seized.
Derby City Council is the first in the East Midlands to provide the night time noise nuisance team.
Derby councillor Hardyal Dhindsa, the City Council Cabinet Member for Environmental Health, says: “ The council’s dealing with an average of one thousand calls a year over many, many years. People get stressed and depressed if they’re not in control of their own communities. We will take action against the perpetrator for their irresponsible behaviour. ”
Since the response team set up, the number of Noise Abatement Notices issued has increased almost five fold. In the 16 months before they began there were 13 notices, in the following 16 months from September 2011 there were 62.
Seizures have also risen dramatically from one, before the new service started, to 17.
The response team drop off noise recording equipment at the home of Lesley Mannion.
She describes the problem: “It’s 24/7, moving furniture, kids running around all night, different people coming and going. The TV is the other side of this wall next to my bedroom, I can hear it through my earplugs. It’s louder than the television in my room.”
Lesley says it has affected her health, “It’s the sleep deprivation... there’s no escape. And if anyone says move house, I’ll scream. I either need to win the lottery to move or die”.
But the council need evidence if they are to take action against the tenants living next door. If the response team are not there to witness it, one course of action is for her to record evidence.
Across in Lincolnshire noise nuisance reported to the police has increased by a third, although anti-social behaviour generally is down.
The officer in charge of tackling the county’s anti-social behaviour is Chief Inspector Mark Housley.
He has developed the force’s new call handling shared data based project. It’s a Home Office pilot in eight forces, including Leicestershire where Fiona Pilkington lived.
She killed herself and her disabled teenage daughter after years of abuse in the street where she lived in Barwell. The deaths were viewed as a catalyst for change in dealing with neighbourhood anti-social behaviour.
The pilot scheme highlights the most vulnerable victims and targets repeat offenders.
Police, councils and the larger social housing landlords are all linked to the same data base.
Chief Inspector Mark Housley is well aware noise nuisance by neighbours has to be nipped in the bud: “We can’t take this issue lightly. We are aware it can escalate. If people are frustrated that local services aren’t delivering for them I understand that and we’re trying to get better at that.”
A spokesman for the Home Office says: “It’s up to individual forces which of the best bits of the pilot schemes they introduce.”
Impact on communities
Even in the new call handling system, without the benefits of a rapid response team who witness the noise, it can take many months to resolve.
It took most of 2012 to deal with the case of Joshua Sargeant in Lincolnshire. At 17 he won half a million pounds in a scratchcard jackpot. He bought a four bedroom detached house on Pear Tree Close in Sleaford.
“It was like living in a supermarket car park” said Anne Hutchinson who lives next door but one. “There were loud parties, revving engines, even brawls in the street. It affected our health.”
After a meeting of more than 20 residents, three gave evidence in court.
The Community Safety Manager for North Kesteven District Council is Heidi Ryder who managed the case.
“We know how devastating it can be. If no one is prepared to come forward and provide evidence we still have the powers but it is much more difficult to take evidence to court.”
It took five months to get a date for the final court hearing in the case of Joshua Sargeant, who’s now 19.
The teenager received a two year anti-social behaviour in November 2012 at Lincoln Magistrate’s Court. He’s banned from playing loud music and holding large gatherings.
Residents say it is now much quieter.
Broxtowe Council in Beeston near Nottingham has just had to review its anti-social behaviour procedures and introduce a new recording system which highlights vulnerable people. It follows the suicide of Dr Suzanne Dow in October 2011.
She complained to the local authority about her neighbours for over a year. The tenants had received a final warning from the council or face eviction. A letter to the council two weeks before her death described how she had “reached the limit of my tolerance”.
Beyond the most extreme cases, noise nuisance by neighbours is a common complaint.
The Noise Abatement Society which offers advice says across 2011, calls increased by almost half. Half of those were about noisy neighbours.
It is also finding that more people are phoning them first before their local council.
As the country’s population increases and more people live wall to wall with their neighbours the issue of how to deal with noise from even considerate neighbours will be a challenge for planners and builders in the future.
Dealing with problem neighbours
* Talk. Try to resolve issues directly.
* Call the local council… if it is loud noise. Loud intrusive music is a statutory nuisance and councils have a legal duty to investigate.
* If you neighbour is a tenant try to contact their landlord.
* Call the police if you are being threatened or suffer violence. 101 non-emergency. 999 emergency.
Noisy neighbours challenged
Noisy and inconsiderate residents can make the lives of their neighbours a living hell.
After the tragedy of Fiona Pilkington who killed herself and her daughter after years of neighbourhood abuse in Leicestershire, new measures are being used to tackle this growing problem.
BBC Inside Out also meets some of those affected by the problem and looks at how Derby City Council's response team is dealing with noise nuisance.
Watch a video feature on the BBC News website.
- Marie Ashby
- Series Editor
- Tony Roe