The law giving councils power to deal with complaints about high hedges is contained in Part 8 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 and the High Hedges (Appeals) (England) Regulations 2005.
The Act allows councils to determine complaints by the owners/occupiers of domestic properties adversely affected by evergreen or semi-evergreen hedges over two metres high. This includes cypresses such as the infamous leylandii will be included, as will other conifers, yew, laurel, box and other evergreens/semi-evergreens. Individual trees and shrubs will be outside the scope of the legislation.
A complaint about a high hedge may be brought to our attention by the owner or occupier of an affected property, although the complainant is expected to have taken all reasonable steps to have resolved matters with their neighbour prior to involving us. In cases where direct negotiation with the hedge owner has proved unproductive, recourse to local community mediation services is appropriate prior to a formal complaint being lodged.
The legislation allows councils to charge a fee for dealing with a complaint. Our fee is £350.
In determining complaints, we gather information from the complainant and the hedge owner. An exchange of representations and a site visit takes place. It takes time for us to co-ordinate these tasks and complainants should not expect a decision for at least 12 weeks.
Blocking of light is a significant factor in the majority of complaints received, and guidelines are available on the objective assessment of the extent to which houses and gardens are shaded by hedges. Other factors are taken into account as circumstances dictate, including privacy, screening, blocking of views and the potential value of hedges as windbreaks. Problems relating to root activity (for example, subsidence, roots taking moisture from the soil and affecting other plants and blocking of drains) are excluded from this legislation and are not taken into account.
If considered appropriate, we can issue a remedial notice requiring that works be undertaken on a problem hedge. This becomes a charge on the property and legal obligations under such a notice pass to any subsequent owners. We don't have powers to require that hedges be reduced to less than 2m in height and the height to which it will be appropriate to reduce specific hedges will depend on the circumstances of each case. Remedial notices typically make provision for ongoing works to ensure that hedges are maintained at a reasonable height in the future.
The time limit for carrying out remedial works is given in the notice and needs to be reasonable in terms of giving the hedge owner the opportunity to enlist the services of a contractor if necessary and make arrangements for the works to be carried out. Owing to the need to protect nesting birds (the disturbance of which would contravene wildlife protection legislation), it is recommended that hedge cutting does not take place between March and August.
There is a right of appeal by the hedge owner against a remedial notice. Similarly, the complainant may appeal if we decide not to issue a remedial notice or if we issue and then subsequently withdraws a notice. Either party may appeal against the terms of a remedial notice on the grounds that it either goes too far or does not go far enough. Appeals are dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate.
We are able to take enforcement action if the terms of remedial notices are not complied with. Failure to comply incurs a fine of up to £1000 in a magistrates court. Further fines can be incurred if compliance is not forthcoming after the first court appearance. We also have powers to enter land and carry out works required by a remedial notice and recover its expenses in so doing from the hedge owner.
We advise and provide information to residents within the district to facilitate amicable resolution of high hedge disputes wherever possible, and administers the formal complaints system in cases where all reasonable attempts at neighbourly conciliation have failed.
A high hedge complaint form and associated documents can be download below:
Communities and Local Government leaflets regarding high hedges can be obtained by visiting the pages listed below: