Ruth Bloomfield

Mean streets: the psychology of neighbour disputes

Why are more and more of us at war with next door?

  • From Spectator Life
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Eunice Day’s breaking point came when her neighbours asked if she would move her car from a communal grass verge in their cul-de-sac so that it could be mowed. After several weeks of polite hostilities, Day stormed a neighbour’s home in the Dorset town of Ferndown, a row ensued, and the resulting scuffle left the 81-year-old in court charged with assault.

In Bedminster, Bristol, fed-up locals have taken a more passive-aggressive approach to ‘outsiders’ parking on their streets. Suburban vigilantes have been creeping out and sellotaping notes to windscreens urging their owners to park outside their own homes instead. Over in the village of Polstead, Suffolk, meanwhile, one couple are contemplating a £160,000 legal bill, run up attempting to force their neighbours to take down a fence as part of a long-running row over access.

The Bible urges us to love our neighbours, but a recent survey by mobile phone brand OnePlus suggests that a third of us don’t even know their names. And long hours sequestered at home during the pandemic have ramped up our collective levels of frustration with their behaviour. Noise complaints in England increased 54 per cent between 2019/20 and 2020/21, according to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has seen a corresponding increase in the number of people seeking its advice in disputes over territory.

Making a call to a council helpline or surveyor is one thing. But what is really fascinating is why some relatively minor problems escalate so dramatically. Mike Talbot, a psychotherapist and founder of UK Mediation, recalls, with a dry laugh, the case of a neighbour who became so enraged by the light from the adjacent property’s conservatory windows in the evenings that, rather than draw their own curtains, they demanded the neighbour’s window be blacked out or their light removed. ‘The

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