A well-maintained hedge can be an attractive and long lasting landscape and ecological feature in an urban area.
However, choosing the wrong hedging plants can lead to difficulties in the future. Part 8 of the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003 came into effect in 2005, and gives local authorities powers to determine complaints submitted by householders in respect of a neighbour's high hedge.
The Council should be involved only as a last resort, when all other reasonable efforts to resolve the dispute have been exhausted. The new legislation does not require hedge owners to maintain their hedges at a given height automatically, and it will not apply to individual trees. The fee for this service is £550, which covers officers time, litigation costs and ongoing monitoring. Should the Council not be able to fully resolve the issue, the fee is not refunded.
What constitutes a high hedge?
For the purposes of the legislation a high hedge must satisfy the following criteria:
- is the hedge, or the portion that is causing a problem, made up of a line of two or more trees or shrubs?
- is it mostly evergreen or semi-evergreen? (semi-evergreen is a tree or shrub that keeps some live or green leaves all year round)
- is it more than two metres tall?
For further advice on High Hedges, please use the government guidance note.
Submitting a complaint to the Council
If you have read the government advice and a dispute cannot be resolved amicably you may make a formal complaint to the Council.
Evidence of your previous efforts to settle the matter will be required as part of any submission.
A complaint may be made by the owner/occupier of a residential property because the height of the hedge detracts from the reasonable enjoyment of the home or garden, but does not extend to matters such as subsidence, as householders can already deal with this through Common Law remedies.
It is essential that the information required by the form be provided, as the Council may be unable to deal with the matter if anything is missing. Copies of supporting documents will also be required.
In submitting a formal complaint, you are required by the legislation to send a copy of the complaint to the owner of the hedge.
In addition you will have to pay a fee of £550 at the time of submitting the complaint. If the Council determine that a complaint is frivolous or vexatious an administration charge of £50 will be deducted from the fee and the application and the remainder of the fee returned.
Consideration of complaint
Once the Council is satisfied that the forms and documents submitted satisfy the criteria for a complaint, the investigation of the complaint can begin.
- the Council will invite the owner and any occupier of the land where the hedge is situated to submit comments. Copies of any representations will be sent to you as the complainant at the same time
- a Council officer will visit the property where the hedge is situated and your property in order to record the dimensions of the hedge, its composition, its position relative to property boundaries and buildings, distance between hedge and windows in the complainant's property and variations in site levels. It will also be necessary to consider the wider issue of the level of contribution the hedge makes to public amenity. The role of the Council is to act as an independent and impartial third party and to decide whether the hedge is adversely affecting the reasonable enjoyment of the complainant's property
- if, after considering the evidence and representations, the Council agrees that the hedge does adversely affect the complainant's property it can serve a Remedial Notice specifying what must be done to the hedge and within what period of time. The submission of a complaint does not necessarily mean that the Council will require the height of the hedge to be reduced, and in any event it cannot require the hedge to be reduced to less than 2 metres, to be removed or to require works that would result in the death of the hedge
- should either you as complainant or the hedge owner be unhappy with the Council's decision, there is a right of appeal to the Planning Inspectorate
Enforcement and penalties
Failure to comply with the requirements of a Remedial Notice is an offence punishable, on conviction in a magistrates' court, to a level 3 fine (up to £1000).
In addition to the power to prosecute for failure to comply with a Remedial Notice, the Council may enter the land where the hedge is situated and carry out the necessary works.
There is no requirement or obligation for the Council to do this, but should this happen the Council would be able to recover any reasonable costs incurred.