highest hedge in the world?

Tallest hedge in the world – Official (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jackal1/190217162/)

High hedge law was introduced in 2003 to help resolve high hedge disputes. Permission is not required to plant a hedge in your garden, and there are no laws that say how tall you can grow your hedge. You are, however, responsible for looking after any hedge on your property and for making sure it is kept in a safe condition and not a nuisance to anyone else. This means regularly trimming the hedge on its top and all sides.

High Hedge Law in the UK

If you believe your neighbour’s hedge is too tall, the best way to deal with the issue is to talk to them about it. It is in both your interests to try and resolve the issue amicably. If you have exhausted all other avenues it is possible to ask your local authority about High Hedge Law and to get involved – using their powers in Part 8 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. The legal definition of a hedge, for the purposes of the ‘2003 Hedge Bill‘ is: A line of two or more evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs.

Calling in the Council or going to court to resolve a high hedge dispute is highly likely to cause friction and animosity and best avoided if possible. Here are some ways to help you agree a solution with your neighbour, even if you have fallen out with them.

A neighbours hacked hedge

A dispute need not end in vandalism (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hockadilly/6813769131/)

Resolving a high hedge dispute

Step 1: be prepared

Before you contact your neighbour about their tall hedges, be clear in your own mind about:

What the problem is

For example:

  • the hedge blocks light to the main rooms of your home
  • it deprives you of winter sunshine
  • it spreads into your garden and is affecting the growth of your plants
  • the hedge is pushing over your fence
  • the roots are damaging your path, garage or home.

How the high hedge affects you

For example:

  • you have to have the lights on for longer
  • your garden is in shade for much of the day
  • you will have to pay to replace your fence only for the hedge to knock it over again
  • you are afraid someone will trip on the broken path or drive
  • you will have to pay to repair your path, garage or home

What you want

For example:

  • the size you would prefer the hedge to be
  • how the hedge should be kept to this size.

Someone who is not involved – like Citizens Advice Bureau, law centres or other organisations in your local Community Legal Service Partnership – can help you work out what to say. You might also find it helps to write it down.

Step 2: making the first move

This is only to fix a time and place so that you and your neighbours can talk about the problem properly. You are most likely to be able to sort things out if you:

  • speak to your neighbours face to face rather than push a note through the door
  • don’t rush them into a discussion too soon. They also need time to think.
  • invite them into your home so that they can see things from your side of the hedge. But don’t press it if they are uncomfortable with the idea. Even if you and your neighbour aren’t on speaking terms, it is still worth trying to set aside your differences to find a solution to your hedge problems. In these circumstances, you might prefer to make the first move by letter. Think carefully about what you put in it:
    • stick to the facts. You might want to describe the problems caused by the hedge and how these affect you (see Step 1)
    • don’t dwell on past failures to sort this out. Look forward to taking the heat out of the situation by airing your differences in a cool and collected manner
    • don’t be rude or abusive.
  • put yourself in the place of the person you are writing to. Think how you would feel if you received the letter
  • it pays to spend time sketching out the letter in rough
  • type or write the letter out neatly and put it in an envelope. It shows you have taken time and trouble and are serious. A scrappy note pushed through the door suggests that you don’t really care.

Step 3: it’s good to talk

When you get together with your neighbour, you might:

  • welcome the chance to try and sort things out
  • tell your side of things. Use the notes you have prepared to say what the problem is and how it affects you
  • be honest and say how you feel. But be prepared for your neighbour to do the same
  • show your neighbours the problems that the tall hedge is causing
  • don’t accuse, insult or blame and don’t charge in with a list of demands
  • let your neighbours have their say, without interrupting them
  • listen to what they’re telling you, even if you don’t agree. This won’t be easy or comfortable. You might be told some things about yourself that you’d rather not hear. It will force you to examine your own behaviour and do some soul searching. But only by trying to understand each other’s point of view will you reach a lasting solution.

Talking to a stranger – mediation

If your neighbour refuses to talk to you, you can ask for the help of independent mediators. Mediators are totally impartial. They don’t tell you what to do but help you and your neighbour to work towards finding your own answer. You can approach them even if your neighbour hasn’t yet agreed to take part. But for mediation to be a success, both you and your neighbour must co-operate in the process.

The way it usually works is that mediators will first visit the person who contacted them to find out more about the problem. They will then get in touch with your neighbour to see if they would like to take part. If so, mediators will visit them as well. Anything you or your neighbour say at these visits is private and confidential. The next step, if you agree, would probably be for the mediator to arrange a joint meeting with you and your neighbour.

The mediator will set the ground rules but it’s up to you and your neighbour to come up with ideas and suggestions for solving your difficulties. If you are reluctant to meet your neighbour, mediators might offer what is known as ‘shuttle mediation’. It involves them going between you and your neighbour, explaining your needs and suggestions to one another until a solution is found.

Neighbour mediation is usually free of charge. Mediation UK can help you find your nearest community mediation service.

Step 4: finding the right answer to a high hedge dispute

This is the difficult part because there is no single right answer. We’ve put some useful information in the next section for you to think about. To find what is best for both of you:

  • make sure that you have both got everything off your chest and all the issues are out in the open
  • sort out the things you can agree on – even if it is agreeing to differ
  • treat it as a shared problem that you need to solve together
  • be ready to consider all ideas and suggestions, including what you each might do
  • look at all the options before picking the one that suits you both

Step 5: putting the answer into practice

When you have your answer – whether you’ve negotiated this yourselves or with the help of mediators:

  • make sure you both know who is meant to do what and by when. It’s a good idea to write this down
  • set a date to check how your agreement is working
  • agree how you will let each other know about any future problems

Involving the Council – the last resort

If none of this works, you might be able to ask your local Council to step in.  The Council will expect you to have gone through the steps outlined above before you approach them for help. They can turn away your complaint if they think that you haven’t done enough to try to sort it out yourself.

Before you go to the Council, it’s as well to write to your neighbour to let them know what you are going to do. Keep the letter short and simple. Don’t make it sound like a threat.

Protected trees – you might need permission from your local Council to cut back or remove a hedge if you live in a conservation area or if the trees in the hedge are protected by a tree preservation order. Check with your local Council before you do any work.

Planning conditions – some hedges must be kept under the terms of a planning permission. Check with your local Council. You would need their consent to remove such a hedge.

Covenants – some properties have legal covenants which lay down the size or type of hedge you can grow. Details should be in your deeds.

Health of the hedge – if the hedge has to be pruned drastically, it might not grow back again. What’s left could look ugly or the hedge might die. You could be better off removing it and starting again. In these circumstances, it is a good idea to get professional advice.

Personal safety – you will probably need specialist equipment or professional help to trim a hedge over 2.5 metres high.

Birds – it is against the law to disturb nesting wild birds. Before you start to cut the hedge, check there are no birds’ nests currently in use. To be on the safe side, trim hedges during the winter months when there is no danger that birds may be nesting.

 

High hedges and High Hedge Law – complaining to the Council

The right hedge can be an ideal garden boundary but the wrong hedge may bring problems. This information explains what will happen if the Council get involved – using their powers in Part 8 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. It is a simple guide and not a statement of the law.

Common questions

1. Can we go straight to the Council with our hedge problem?

No. Involving the Council should be a last resort if you really can’t agree a solution. The Council can refuse to intervene if they think you haven’t done everything you reasonably could to settle your dispute.

2. What will the Council expect us to have done to sort this out between ourselves?

This will depend on how well you get on with your neighbours. But, before you contact the Council, you should have tried the following:

  • Have a quiet word with your neighbour about your concerns.
  • Follow this up by sitting down with them so that you can geta better understanding of each other’s concerns and try to figure out the answer.
  • If this doesn’t work, invite them to talk to independent mediators who can help you find a way forward. If your neighbour won’t talk to you or you are nervous about speaking to them, send a polite letter. It won’t be enough to say your neighbour is not approachable.

Keep a record of what you’ve done – eg. copies of letters or a diary. If nothing works, you should let your neighbours know that you will be making a formal complaint to the Council.

3. My high hedge dispute has been running for years. Am I expected to go through all this again?

The Council will expect evidence of a recent attempt to settle your dispute with your neighbour. If you rely on an approach you made more than, say, 4 months ago, they could ask you to try again. You never know, your neighbour could have had a change of heart. They might not welcome the Council getting involved and could be ready to compromise.

4. What sorts of complaint can the Council look at?

If you’ve been through all the steps set out above AND can answer ‘yes’ to ALL the points listed below, the Council should be able to look at your complaint:

  • Is it growing on land owned by someone else?
  • Is the hedge – or the portion that is causing problems – made up of a line of 2 or more trees or shrubs?
  • Is it mostly evergreen or semi-evergreen?
  • Is it more than 2 metres tall?
  • Even though there might be gaps in the foliage or between the trees or shrubs, is the hedge still capable of obstructing light or views?

Who can complain

  • Are you the owner or occupier (eg. tenant) of the property affected by the hedge?
  • Is the property residential? Grounds of complaint
  • Does the hedge detract from the reasonable enjoyment of your home or garden because it is too tall?

5. The tall hedge has got some gaps in it that allow light through. Does this mean that I can’t complain to the Council about it?

Not necessarily. It depends on the extent of the gaps. This may not be easy to judge. There are no rules that say if the trees or shrubs are more than a set distance apart, then you can’t complain. But, where individual trees or shrubs are so widely spaced that you can see what lies behind them, then it might not meet the criteria for making a complaint.

6. Can I complain to the Council about individual trees?

No. Follow the steps at the top of this page to try to settle your dispute.

7. Does the disputed high hedge have to be on the boundary line or in next door’s garden?

No, it doesn’t matter where the high hedge is growing, provided it isn’t on your own land. Though the farther away it is from your house or garden, the less troublesome it is likely to be.

8. What’s a semi-evergreen tree or shrub?

It’s something that keeps some live or green leaves all year round. Depending on where you live, this could include privet. The further north you are, the more likely that a privet hedge will lose its leaves over the winter. It doesn’t include beech or hornbeam hedges. The leaves that they keep in the winter are dead and brown.

9. Where is the 2 metres measured from?

It’s measured from ground level. This is usually at the base of the trunk or main stem of the trees or shrubs in the hedge. Unless it has been planted on a bank or in a raised bed, when the measurement would be taken from the natural ground level.

10. What sort of problems can I complain about?

You can complain about problems that you experience in your house and garden because the hedge is too tall. You must also be able to explain why these bother you. Because each case is different, it’s impossible to produce a list of potential grievances that you can choose from. You need to think about the disadvantages that you actually face, whether these are to do with the height of the hedge and how serious they are.

The Council won’t be able to consider things that are not really about the hedge in question or its impact on your house and garden. For example, that other people keep their hedges trimmed to a lower height, or that the worry is making you ill.

11. I’m worried that the hedge will cause subsidence in my home. Can I complain about this?

No. This isn’t to do with the height of the hedge but its roots taking moisture from soils that shrink.
The Act specifically says that Councils can’t deal with problems caused by roots.

12. Do I have to pay the Council to consider my complaint? If so, how much?

Yes, you have to pay the Council for this service. Their complaint form should tell you how much.

13. Will I get my money back if the Council uphold my complaint?

No.

14. Can the Council help me get it back from my neighbours?

No, the Council can’t get involved in helping you recover the fee that you have paid and certainly can’t force your neighbours to reimburse you.

15. What if I cannot afford to pay the fee?

Check if your Council offer reduced fees for people who are on a low income or benefits.

16. Who do I complain to?

You should contact your local district or borough Council. They’re the ones you pay your council tax to. You can find them in Yellow Pages under Local Government. The main switchboard should be able to tell you which department of the Council deals with complaints about high hedges and high hedge law.

17. How do I make a complaint?

The Council will send you a form to fill in. This is your main chance to set out your case so it is important that you provide full information on the form. In particular, think carefully about your grounds of complaint. Explain as clearly as you can the problems that you actually experience in your house and garden because the hedge is too tall, and why these are serious.

Stick to the facts and provide all relevant information to back up the points you are making. If you’re having trouble filling in the form, your local Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help. Alternatively, a relative or friend could complete it on your behalf.

The completed form can be sent by post or email to the Council. You should send a copy to your neighbours so they know what you’ve done. If you don’t send it to them, the Council will. So bear this in mind when you complete the form. Remember to enclose the right feewith the form. The Council can’t consider your complaint without it.

18. What happens if the hedge is owned by the Council?

You should still send your complaint to the Council. They will make sure that it is dealt with by different people from those who look after the land where the hedge is. If you don’t agree with the Council’s decision on your complaint, you can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

19. What will the Council do with my complaint?

Once the Council are satisfied that your complaint meets the legal tests, they will invite your neighbour to set out their case. When they’ve got both sides of the story, an officer of the Council will pay a visit, to see the hedge and surroundings for themselves. They will also obtain any otherfacts  about the site that they need to help them decide your complaint. They might, for instance, need to measure the size of your garden or how far the hedge is from windows in your house.

Once they’ve got all this information together, the Council will weigh it all up. They will decide whether the hedge adversely affects the reasonable enjoyment of your home and garden and what – if anything – should be done about it. If they decide action is necessary, they will issue a formal notice to your neighbour which sets out what they must do to the hedge and when they must do it by. This is known as a remedial notice. It can also require your neighbour to keep the hedge trimmed to its new size.

20. This appears overly complicated. Surely all it needs is for the Council to go and get evidence to show the hedge is a nuisance and then order the offender to cut it down?

That’s not the way the law works. There is no offence for having a tall hedge. So it’s not up to the Council to prove the hedge is a nuisance. Their job, in the words of the Act, is to decide whether the hedge is adversely affecting your reasonable enjoyment of your property and, if so, what action – if any – should be taken to remedy the situation or to prevent it happening again.

The use of the word ‘reasonable’ is important. It means that the Council cannot just take into account your concerns. They must also consider your neighbour’s point of view and think about the consequences for the neighbourhood. For example, the hedge might help to make the area an attractive and pleasant  place to live. The Council have to weigh up all relevant information before reaching a fair and balanced decision. Collecting written evidence from you and your neighbour, and visiting the site, will make sure that the Council have the information they need to make the right decision.

21. How do I know whether it’s going to do me any good to complain to the Council?

You can’t be certain what the result will be. That’s why it is important to think carefully about your reasons for complaining to the Council before you return your form.  As a general rule, your case will be weaker if the trouble with the hedge affects you for only a short time, or is just inconvenient.

22. How long will I have to wait for the Council to decide my complaint?

There is no set deadline for the Council to decide your complaint. Remember it will take time for them to get a statement from your neighbour, and to arrange to visit the site. So you shouldn’t expect to get an answer for at least 12 weeks. If you are worried because you haven’t heard anything, you could contact the Council to check progress.

23. If the Council uphold my complaint, will the hedge have to be removed? That would solve the problem once and for all.

No, the Act specifically says that the Council can’t order that the hedge be removed entirely. Nor can they require it to be cut down below 2 metres.

24. Will the hedge have to be cut down to 2 metres then?

Not necessarily. There is nothing in the Act that says all hedges must be cut down to 2 metres. As a general rule, the Council can only order your neighbour to reduce the hedge to a height that will remedy the problems – or prevent them happening again – and no more. 2 metres will not, therefore, be the right answer in every case.

25. How long will the Council give my neighbour to cut the hedge?

This will vary but it could well be months rather than weeks. The Council must be realistic about how long it will take your neighbour to carry out the works. They might also allow extra time so that the hedge does not have to be cut when birds might be nesting in it. Your neighbour can appeal if they think the Council have not allowed enough time.

26. What is there to make sure my neighbour keeps the hedge at its new height? Do I have to complain again, and pay a fee?

As well as reducing the height of the hedge, the Council can order your neighbour to take action to prevent the problems with the hedge happening again. This could include keeping the hedge within its new height for as long as it is there. The remedial notice issued by the Council will set out any such maintenance requirement. So you wouldn’t have to make another formal complaint and go through this process again to get something done.

27. Does the Council’s remedial notice allow me to cut my neighbour’s hedge if I think they’re dragging their heels?

No, it doesn’t give you any right to cut the hedge. If you do anything more than trim branches that hang over your side, your neighbour could take you to court for damaging their property.

If any trees in the hedge are protected, you might not be able to do even this without getting separate permission from the Council.

28. What happens if my neighbour doesn’t cut the hedge when they’re meant to?

Failure to carry out the works ordered by the Council is an offence. Your neighbour could be prosecuted and, if found guilty in the magistrates court, could be fined up to £1,000.

29. Will the Council cut the hedge instead?

The Council can go onto your neighbour’s property and cut the hedge if they don’t do it themselves. But it’s up to the Council whether they step in. They are not obliged to do so.

30. Is there anything I can do if I don’t like the Council’s decision?

If you disagree with the Council’s decision, you can appeal to the independent Planning Inspectorate. They must receive your appeal within 28 days of the date of the Council’s decision letter.

If you think the Council have not handled your complaint properly, you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.

 

Useful contacts and resources:

Citizens Advice Bureaux – offer free, confidential, impartial and independent advice.
Community Legal Service (CLS) – helps people to find the right legal advice. There are CLS Information Points in local libraries. Or else search www.clsdirect.org.uk or tel: 0845 345 4 345 for your nearest Community Legal Service provider.
Gardening Which? helps its members with their gardening problems tel: 0845 903 7000
Hedgeline – help those affected by problem hedges, drawing on the experience of their
members. See their website at www.hedgeline.org or tel: 0870 2400 627
Mediation UK – to find your nearest community mediation service search www.mediationuk .org.uk or tel: 0117 904 6661
Royal Horticultural Society – helps its members with their specific gardening problems tel: 01483 479700. General advice on planting and looking after hedges is available at www.rhs.org.uk/advice
Tree Helpline – for impartial advice on anything to do with trees, hedges and shrubs tel: 09065
161147 (calls are charged at £1.50 a minute)