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ot all trees improve people's quality of life. The problems that can be caused by high garden hedges - especially leylandii - have received a lot of publicity, and since 2005 there's been a law all about it. This page is about the legislation in England which came into force on 1 June 2005.
Part 8 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 created new procedures to enable local authorities in England and Wales to deal with complaints about high hedges. It is clearly better if disputes can be settled between the parties concerned, but where negotiation fails, a complaint can be made to the local authority who can assess the case, acting as an independent and impartial third party. If they think it is justified the authority can order the owner to reduce the height of their hedge. But there is no general requirement that all hedges should be kept below a certain height. In particular it is not illegal to plant leylandii, and it is not illegal to have a hedge more than 2m high. Both of these are myths which are often repeated, but are incorrect.
The bad news for complainants is that the Council will charge a fee for this service, and you have to pay a fee just to make a complaint. Sounds unfair? Maybe, but that's the way it works. Fees are set locally and vary from about £100 to more than £600. Some give discounts, some don't. So far, there's no sign of any way to claim the fee back from the hedge-owner either.
What complaints can be considered?Complaining to the local authority should always be a last resort. People should have tried to solve their hedge problems by negotiation with their neighbours before approaching the authority. Otherwise their complaint could be rejected.
If someone cannot settle their hedge dispute, they can take their complaint to their local authority provided that all of these are true:
How the local authority will deal with the complaintIn considering a complaint the local authority normally charges the complainant a fee - this is set by the local authority, and varies considerably from authority to authority. Some authorities give a cheaper rate to some people - for example, to those on benefits.
The legislation does not specify the procedures that authorities must follow in determining complaints. But they should take into account all relevant factors and assess each case on its merits. They normally need to gather information about the hedge, its effect on the complainant and hedge-owner and its contribution to the wider amenity of the area.
In each case the local authority decides, in the first place, whether the height of the hedge adversely affects the complainant's reasonable enjoyment of their property, including the garden. If so, the authority then considers what action, if any, should be taken in relation to the hedge in order to remedy the adverse effect and to prevent it recurring.
Even if the local authority finds that a hedge is adversely affecting the complainant's property they may decide that the arguments in favour of retaining the hedge are stronger and that no action should be taken.
RemediesIf the local authority decides that action should be taken to resolve the complaint, they issue a formal notice to the person responsible for the hedge, setting out what must be done and by when. This is known as a 'remedial notice'. This can include long-term maintenance of the hedge at a lower height, but cannot involve reducing the height of the hedge below 2 metres, or its removal. Although the local authority cannot require such action, the hedge-owner is free to go further than the remedial notice requires.
Is there any limit to how much can be cut off?One problem which has emerged with these regulations is that if a high hedge is cut back in one go, it might die. Whereas it is sometimes possible to reduce a hedge in stages quite successfully. So there are often difficulties in setting out the way in which this can be done, and enforcing it. In particular, there has been some debate since the publication of the regulations about cutting back a hedge by more than one third. In arboriculture, it is normally bad practice to cut trees back by more than one third in any year. Some people have worked on the assumption that this is also true for hedges. However the situation with hedges is not necessarily the same. The government have made a statement about this controversy (the extract below is edited for brevity):
"Section 69(3) of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 prevents local authorities from ordering works that involve reducing the hedge to below 2 metres in height or its removal. In our view (based on legal advice), works that would result in the death or destruction of the hedge amount to the same as removing it and so are outlawed under the 2003 Act... Within the constraints imposed by the legislation, it is for local authorities to decide what height the hedge should be reduced to whilst ensuring its survival...
We do not advise or recommend that Leyland cypress or other hedges can be reduced by one-third only. There is no one-third rule... the wide variation in circumstances means that it is not possible to apply such general rules of thumb.
It has been suggested that our guidance stipulates that only one-third of a healthy hedge can be safely trimmed. This is a misunderstanding. Rather, our guidance (paragraph 6.24) offers an example of how a healthy and vigorous hedge might stand more drastic cutting than an older specimen, to illustrate how the amount of cutting that a hedge can tolerate will vary according to the particular circumstances.
If a substantial reduction of the hedge is required to remedy the problems, it might be preferable to cut it in stages over several seasons.
If staged cutting was not feasible, the local authority might order the hedge to be cut to a height which left sufficient live wood and foliage to enable it to regenerate. Or they might consider alternative remedies to reducing the height of the hedge, such as more selective pruning to let more light through. We acknowledge that, in such cases, local authorities might be prevented from requiring action to the hedge that would provide a full remedy to the problems identified."
(Source: Local Authority Chief Executives in England, 20 April 2006, from Baroness Andrews of the ODPM.)
The campaigning group Hedgeline says of this problem:
"Please note that in the case of very high, established conifer hedges, the Councils are not likely to give a reduction which will alleviate your problem. There is a serious loophole in the High Hedges Law. Whatever the height the council thinks the hedge should be reduced to under the terms of the Act, it will not order that reduction if it thinks there is any possibility at all of the hedge being killed. This is because Act states that hedges cannot be ordered to be removed. The Government Guidance Notes for the councils (section 6.24) states that ordering any reduction which might possibly kill the hedge is the same as ordering it to be removed. You may wish also to take into account the fact that your neighbour will have to maintain is hedge annually to keep it below the height ruled by the council, and if this is a considerable height, he may well find it easier to completely remove or to reduce the hedge to a more easily maintained height. Unless you only want a third or even a quarter off an older very high hedge please consider carefully before paying your fee to the council."
AppealsBoth hedge owners and complainants can appeal against the local authority's decision. They must do so within 28 days starting from the date that the local authority notifies the parties of its decision. The remedial notice is suspended whilst the appeal is being determined.
EnforcementFailure to comply with the requirements of a remedial notice is an offence. If someone is convicted in the magistrates' court, they could be fined up to £1,000. In addition to, or in place of, a fine the court might then issue an order for the offender to carry out the required work within a set period of time. Failure to comply with the court order would be another offence, liable to a £1,000 fine. At this point, the court would also be able to set a daily fine for every day that the work continued to remain outstanding.
If the work in the remedial notice is not carried out the local authority have powers to go in and do the work specified, recovering its costs from the hedge owner. But, there is no requirement or obligation on them to intervene in this way.
Preventing Hedge Problems: resources
Naturenet Hedgerows page
Naturenet Law page