Following repeated calls from the general public for help to control the nuisance that overgrown hedges can cause, the government has introduced legislation (under part 8 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003), to tackle the problems caused by 'high hedges'.
Under the act, the council has been given the power to exercise control over high hedges by way of investigating 'formal complaints' made by the public.
The act requires people to have taken 'all reasonable steps' to try to settle their hedge dispute for themselves before making a formal complaint to the local council.
The legislation came into force on 1 June 2005.
The law governing the procedures for dealing with complaints must relate to a 'high hedge', which is defined in the act as being:
"So much of a barrier to light or access as is formed wholly or predominantly by a line of two or more evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs and rises to a height of more than two metres above ground level."
When considering whether a particular hedge can be the subject of a complaint under the act, the following questions need to be addressed:
If the answer to all these questions is yes, then it is a 'high hedge' for the purposes of the act.
A person can bring a complaint under the act only if a 'domestic property' is affected. The act defines domestic property as ‘a dwelling or any associated garden or yard'. The garden or yard does not have to be attached to the dwelling, as long as it is linked legally, rather than physically, with the property.
A complaint cannot be brought under the act if a hedge is affecting a garage, barn, summerhouse, shed or other outbuilding used for incidental domestic purposes.
Anyone making a complaint to the council must show that:
This could include obstruction of daylight and sunlight, jointly or as separate issues, as well as a potential loss of view or outlook. In addition, someone could bring a complaint under the act if the neighbouring high hedge affects their own garden, making it feel claustrophobic. Impact on growing plants can also be considered, provided that the damage was attributable to the height of the hedge.
According to the act, the following factors are not relevant to a high hedge complaint:
The person making the complaint must send a copy of the complaint particulars to the owner/occupier of the land where the hedge is situated, at the same time as they submit the complaint forms it to the council. The council will require evidence to show that the owner/occupier of the land in question has been forewarned by the complainant, that failure to negotiate a solution would lead to the matter being referred to the council.
To receive a high hedges complaint form you should contact firstname.lastname@example.org
A fee of £320 is required to be submitted with a complaint application form. Residents who are currently in receipt of either housing or, council tax benefits at the time the application is made, do not have to pay a fee for their application.
Unlike planning regulations, the act sets no timetable for the council to reach a decision on a 'high hedge' complaint. However, a 12 week period should be a sufficient length of time in which to deal with a complaint.
In reaching a decision, the council will need to decide:
After considering all the evidence, the act requires the council to make a decision and determine what action should be taken (if any) to rectify the problem and if appropriate, prevent it from recurring.
If the council concludes that the height of the hedge is having an adverse impact on the amenity of any neighbouring properties, then the council is required to serve a ‘remedial notice'. A remedial notice will specify the action that the council will require to be taken to solve the problem and prevent it from recurring in the future.
For example, the height of the existing hedge might need to be reduced from five metres to two metres and subsequently maintained to a height of no more than 2.5 metres. A remedial notice remains in force for as long as the hedge remains on the site.
Failure to comply with the requirements of a remedial notice is an offence punishable, on conviction, in the magistrates' court to a level three fine up to £1,000.
Under the act, both the complainant and the owner and occupier of the land where the hedge is situated, can appeal to the Secretary of State against the council's decision.
The Planning Inspectorate has been appointed to deal with appeals on behalf of the Secretary of State. There will be no charge for making an appeal.
Further information about high hedges and the new legislation can be found on the GOV.UK website.