Bristol University pays for late-night police patrols targeting noisy students
The University of Bristol is paying for night-time police patrols in areas around its campus after years of complaints from residents about loud parties and disruption caused by its growing number of students living in rented houses.
While a number of British universities already fund or subsidise police activities to safeguard students and staff, Bristol appears to be the first university to pay for police to protect residents from students.
The university says it is paying Avon and Somerset police £25,000 for Operation Beech, which includes dedicated patrols until 2am on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with locals given a phone number to report noisy behaviour.
A police spokesperson said the move was “a response to issues of antisocial behaviour reported by residents in areas with a significant Bristol University student population”.
But those living in the worst-affected areas around the university – the Redland and Cotham districts to the north of the main campus – say the university has failed to rein in the behaviour of its students living in private accommodation and appears to be more interested in deflecting bad publicity than in tackling the problem.
Andrew Waller, who has been living in Redland since 2006, said the problem had been acute for the past five years as the university had expanded and more undergraduates were renting privately in the area.
“When I moved in I wasn’t aware of any of this sort of stuff. Students didn’t really cause us any problems. But for some reason in 2013 there was a rash of noisy parties, and that was when I realised there was a problem,” Waller said. “Now we get some very large, very loud parties, and they represent the worst extremes.”
Until 2002, Bristol had fewer than 10,000 full-time undergraduates. Since then it has expanded rapidly, so that by 2012 it had nearly 14,000 and this year it is close to 20,000, along with 6,000 postgraduates. Almost all of its own accommodation is taken up by first-year or international students, leaving the rest to find housing in the private sector.
Waller said that on one weekend evening last year he counted 170 people entering a party at a semi-detached house near his home. He recalled one unhappy weekend when large parties were held on consecutive nights and stretched into the early hours, giving those living nearby little chance of sleep.
“These are not spontaneous events. They are planned. In some cases the students hire an events company to set up big speakers in their living room, things that would normally be on a stage, and have bouncers and doormen. A nightclub or a pub would not be granted a licence to hold these events until 5am in a residential area,” Waller said.
Waller established a dedicated website, the Noise Pages, for local residents to report the worst cases, while local community leaders and councillors have been lobbying the university to take more action.
Operation Beech was first trialled at the end of last academic year, and the university decided to go ahead with 40 nights of patrols spread across peak party periods during the academic year.
Prof Sarah Purdy, Bristol University’s pro-vice-chancellor for student experience, said Operation Beech had arisen from suggestions by residents and was targeted at areas reporting a “disproportionate” level of noise and disturbance generated by students.
“The university takes very seriously its responsibility to be a good neighbour and manage the impact of our students on the community. We acknowledge that public services are stretched, so where our students are causing distress to local residents we should contribute to resourcing that management,” Purdy said.
“So far Operation Beech is doing exactly what we want it to achieve, which is to work positively with our neighbouring communities and pro-actively with our students in being good neighbours.”
The university said it also had a dedicated community liaison team working with local residents and community groups, and it helped students prepare for moving into private rented accommodation, including giving advice on how to be considerate neighbours.
It said it had received around 230 complaints in the last academic year, slightly fewer than in 2017-18. Many cases were dealt with by warnings via email, but 10 groups were fined up to £150 a person, 15 households were required to attend “impact awareness” classes and 27 had to write letters of apology.
In recent years a number of universities have contributed to local police forces in return for increased security patrols on or around campuses. The University of Newcastle and Northumbria University pay £50,000 for patrols on Friday and Saturday nights, known as Operation Oak. But that scheme was initially created to protect students and concentrates on antisocial behaviour, with noise a matter for the local authority.