It is a well-known fact amongst anyone who has been a neighbour that both hedges and people are incredibly volatile. Whilst the right hedge may create a pleasant anaesthetic, and the right neighbour may create a pleasant dinner party, many disputes have arisen from unclear boundaries of both. Both leylandii and cypress hedges have become fashionable in recent years as ‘insta-hedges’, which, whilst relatively fool proof, can become overgrown very quickly without the correct care and attention. Consequently, the issue of hedges blocking out light or straying across garden boundaries has become commonplace.
Over the past decade, Acts have been implemented in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales (High Hedges Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, High Hedges (Scotland) Act 2013 and Section 8 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003). These Acts give home owners and occupiers the ability to apply for a high hedge notice from their local authority, and empower local authorities to make decisions relating to high hedges in their area. Of course, due to the circumstance-specific nature of the matter, the Acts are multifarious and confusing, leading to the arising of many questions. Ultimately, it comes down to the local authority making decisions based on specific circumstance, however, it is useful to be aware of the small-print rules.
The acts state that, in order to ‘qualify’, the hedge must be comprised of two or more trees or shrubs and have a height in excess of two meters. It must be detrimental to the reasonable enjoyment of the property and/ or block out light. Furthermore, all reasonable steps must first be taken by the owner and neighbour to amicably resolve the matter – many local authorities even provide mediation.
If the application is accepted and a notice issued, the hedge owner has a ‘compliance period’ of 28 days to make any necessary arrangements or appeal against the decision taken. If the owner decides to remove the hedge, the authority must be notified so the notice can be removed.
Aside from these basic guidelines, there are also smaller, more specific rules, which may affect both the hedge owner and neighbours:
The local authority cannot make decisions about roots.
Neighbours cannot enter hedge owners’ property. They must measure the hedge from their own land (is it just me for whom this summons amusing mental images?).
If the hedge doesn’t entirely block light, but is still detrimental to neighbouring property, applications may still be accepted in Scotland.
If there is an invasive single tree impeaching neighbouring land, offending branches can be cut off. However, the tree owner must be informed and branches returned.
If the hedge has a tree preservation order or is in a conservation area and the authority agrees to issue a notice, it will override the protections in place.
If a hedge offends a number of neighbours, they may have to each apply for a notice for the sections that individually affect them.
If the owner decides to remove the hedge, the authorities need to be notified so that the notice can be removed.
Ultimately, the local authority makes the final decision as to whether or not action is taken. As mentioned, individual circumstance must be taken into account, and so the rules are not necessarily clean cut. However, for hedge owners, the most effective way to avoid unnecessary conflict is to simply keep hedges well maintained and the ‘Take That’ jam session at a sociable volume.