Page last updated at 05:01 GMT, Wednesday, 7 May 2008 06:01 UK

The neighbours who never speak

By David Sillito
BBC News, Peterborough

Urban street
Streets are empty and neighbours are not chatty, our survey suggests

Half of Britons have said hello to fewer than half a dozen people in their street in the last week, a survey for BBC Breakfast has suggested.

But one in ten of those questioned for the programme by ICM Research spoke to no-one.

More than a fifth (22%) of Britons believe that the UK's neighbourhoods are becoming less friendly.

However, the survey does suggest that about a quarter of people (24%) will have said hello to anything up to 10 neighbours in a week.

Some now think there is a serious decline in everyday interaction, which they argue can lead to needless disputes.

This tends to manifest itself in a reliance on the police and the authorities to get involved with rows over wheelie bins, parking and everyday neighbourhood niggles.

Among those who are concerned that a lack of good neighbourliness is causing problems is Joan Tibbs.

We constantly say to people 'have you spoken to your neighbour about this parking issue or the overflowing bin' and they say 'No, I haven't'
Joan Tibbs

She is responsible for neighbourhood relations for Peterborough's main housing association, Crosskeys Homes.

"I think people have lost the ability to talk to one another and they've lost the habit of saying good morning," she says.

She has had to introduce "Neighbourhood Pledges" to try to get people to accept basic standards of neighbourly behaviour such as speaking to people before making a complaint.

Immediate neighbours

"We constantly say to people 'have you spoken to your neighbour about this parking issue or the overflowing bin' and they say 'no, I haven't'.

"We're trying to get people to start communicating with one another."

Jean Wilcock and her husband Bill grew up on a council estate in St Helens, Merseyside.

You can't get in touch with people, you can't get beyond the brick wall
Jean Wilcock

Their new flat in Hampton, Peterborough is pristine and the local area immaculate, but the streets are almost deserted - on a 15-minute walk around the area I saw one person.

In her block, Jean Wilcock knows the names of her immediate neighbours but has failed to get to know anyone along the street.

And it saddened her to say that despite her best efforts, she had said hello to only four people in the street in the last week.

Friendly Scots

And when she does see someone, her friendly hello is more often than not met with a blank stare.

"Me, I'm friendly, I do say hello and it's like 'what do you want? I don't know you'.

"You can't get in touch with people, you can't get beyond the brick wall."

Two 1950s women talking
Scots are more likely to say hello to their neighbours than other Britons

But there is a slightly brighter picture in Scotland and the English midlands.

ICM found that more than a third (35%) of Scots had said hello to between six and 10 of their neighbours in a week.

Just under a third (28%) of people living in the Midlands had done the same.

BBC Breakfast is running a series of films from around Britain looking at three neighbourhoods to see how things have changed.

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