Where trees or hedges get out of hand neighbour disputes can occur, such as where a high hedge is perceived to restrict someone's use or enjoyment of their property. Tall hedges can be a nuisance, especially where neighbours can't agree on a suitable height amicably. However, legislation now gives people whose gardens are overshadowed the opportunity to resolve the problem through the Trees and High Hedges Act 2005.
Trees are in general, protected by the Tree Preservation Act 1993 and may be further protected by Registration under the Act or through other legal safeguards which help to make sure that they are not lost or damaged needlessly.
What constitutes a high hedge under the law?
- The hedge is defined as a line of two or more trees or shrubs more than 2m (approx. 6½ft) tall (there is extra guidance for hedge heights on slopes)
- The hedge is formed wholly or predominantly of evergreens (these don't lose their leaves in winter) or semi-evergreen ones that stay green most of the year)
- The high hedges legislation has been designed so that the general public is able to use it without the need to involve lawyers.
This would be a simple sequence of events:
- Where you feel that a hedge is too tall and affects the 'reasonable' enjoyment of your house or garden, the first step is to negotiate with your neighbours. Keep diaries recording the dates when you have spoken to your neighbour about the issue, and copy of any letters to demonstrate you have tried.
- Provided the aggrieved party have tried and exhausted all other avenues for resolving their tree or hedge dispute, they will be able to take their complaint about a neighbour's tree(s) or hedge to the local authority for their area. There is a fee for making a complaint (typically £150) to deter frivolous applications.
- The role of the local authority is not to mediate or negotiate between the complainant and the tree/ hedge owner but to adjudicate on whether - in the words of the Act - the tree/ hedge is adversely affecting the complainant's reasonable enjoyment of their property. In doing so, the authority must take account of all relevant factors and must strike a balance between the competing interests of the complainant and tree/ hedge owner, as well as the interests of the wider community.
- The Commissioners will either reject the complaint or issue a notice requiring the hedge to be cut back and by how much. The notice will also include a period of time within in which the work shall be completed. Failure to carry out the works required by the authority is an offence which, on prosecution, could lead to a fine of up to £5,000.
- There is a chance to appeal any decision made by the local authority.
- It is advisable for the hedge to be cut below the requested height. This will allow the hedge to grow in between trimmings, but still remain below the stipulated height.
Cutting the tall stories down to size
- The legislation does not require all hedges to be cut down to a height of 2 metres
- You do not have to get permission to grow a hedge above 2 metres
- When a hedge grows over 2 metres the local authority does not automatically take action, unless a justifiable complaint is made
- If you complain to the local authority, it does not follow automatically that they will order your neighbour to reduce the height of their tree/ hedge. They have to weigh up all the issues and consider each case on its merit.
- The local authority cannot require the hedge to be removed.
- The legislation does not guarantee access to uninterrupted light.
- The Tree Preservation Act 1993 takes primacy over the Trees and High Hedges Act 2005.
For further information, please see: Trees and High Hedges