Are we forgetting how to be good neighbours?

Neighbours having coffee over the fence

A whopping one in five of us say we've been involved in a dispute with our neighbours in the last 12 months, with noise the biggest problem.

Over two fifths of Brits complain of their neighbours stomping around the house, having loud arguments or hosting late night parties.

Nearly a quarter, meanwhile, have suffered rude or abusive neighbours and a further one in five have had problems with barking dogs or wars over parking.

"The research shows as a nation we're at risk of losing the community spirit we once prided ourselves on," says James Hillon, director of products at Co-op Insurance, which carried out the research.

"Communities are valuable as they allow people to interact with each other, share experiences and develop valued relationships; without communities we're in danger of living isolated lives."

Cities are the least friendly areas, with London and Birmingham having by far the highest number of neighbour issues - a quarter have had problems over the past year. The most harmonious place in Britain is Milton Keynes, where only 7% of neighbours have fallen out.

And even when we're not rowing with our neighbours, we don't seem to have the community spirit we once did. Only one in five of us has ever even popped round to a neighbour's house for a cup of tea - something that television producer Phil Redmond notes with sadness.

"When creating Brookside, Hollyoaks and Grange Hill, each had at its heart a sense of shared community, with Brookside, in particular, concentrating on how society was changing from the cosy 'coo-ee it's only me' world of neighbours popping into each other's houses for cups of sugar," he says.

What we want in a neighbour, according to the research, is somebody who treats us with respect, is tolerant, and respects other people's needs. Being considerate about noise and parking are important too.

And, says Lynn Farrar, chair of Neighbourhood Watch, it's only by being a good neighbour that we get to have good neighbours ourselves.

"Our communities are changing as people lead busier lives, but people still care about the places they live," she says. "Everyone wants to live in a safe, friendly area and it starts with each one of us."

Top neighbour disputes
1. Excessive noise: 41%
2. Rudeness or abuse: 22%
3. Barking dogs: 21%
4. Parking wars: 19%
5. Nosey neighbours: 18%
6. Unruly kids: 15%
7. = Boundary disputes: 12%
7. = Gossipy neighbours: 12%
8. Messy gardens: 11%
9. Roaming pets: 7%
10. Not keeping shared facilities maintained: 6%

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Nightmare neighbours
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Nightmare neighbours

Gerard and Christina White from Moseley in Birmingham hit the headlines in September last year, when their neighbour ignored his planning permission, and built so close to their house that they said it effectively turned their detached property into a semi-detached one.

Despite the fact it left them unable to maintain the side of their property, the council washed their hands of the case, and said the couple would have to take private legal action if they wanted the extension to be pulled down.

Helen Coughlan, a 52-year-old carer from Woodford Bridge in north east London, was stunned when her neighbours built an extension just 24 inches from her window - completely obscuring her view.

Despite the fact she says it took £100,000 off the value of the home, and rendered it unsellable, the council said it could do nothing to force the demolition of the new extension.

In 2013, a row that had been rumbling for 17 years finally came to court. One of the neighbours had planted eight conifer trees in his front garden, and ignored repeated requests to cut them back to allow natural light into his neighbour’s home.

He was eventually forced to by a court - after the trees had caused a crack to appear in his neighbour’s wall.

Wendy and Paul Collins from Brownhills in the West Midlands watched in horror as their neighbours erected a six foot fence at the bottom of their front garden, blocking their front gate and leaving their car stranded on their front lawn.

Their home faces onto a car park serving a block of flats, and the owners of the flats erected the fence to stop the couple driving through the car park in order to park on their front lawn. The couple can still access their house through the back - and have a drive round the other side of the house - unfortunately their car is stuck on the lawn.

A Michigan man who had been through a bitter divorce, decided to get his revenge on his ex-wife by moving in next door.

As soon as he had moved in, he erected a 12 foot statue in the front garden, of a hand giving the finger. The statue is even lit up at night.

In May last year, Steven and Fiona Young from Blawith were ordered to pay their neighbours, Peter and Lesley Raymond, £600,000, after a campaign of harassment.

The Youngs had lived in a large farmhouse, but decades earlier sold up and moved to a smaller property next door. The Raymonds moved into the farmhouse and the Youngs became nightmare neighbours.

They piled rubbish in the garden, damaged fences, let animals foul their garden, and rode quad bikes over the grounds. When the Raymonds installed CCTV, Mr Young mooned them, and then painted over them.

The Raymonds sued for harassment, trespass, nuisance, assault and slander - and were awarded £200,000. The Youngs also had to pay £400,000 costs.

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