Trees and hedges
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:
- the hedge, or the portion that is causing a problem is made up of a line of two or more trees or shrubs
- it must be mostly evergreen or semi-evergreen (semi-evergreen is a tree or shrub that keeps some live or green leaves all year round)
- it must be 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 £1,000).
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.
Trees are protected if they are in a conservation area, or if they are the subject of a tree preservation order (TPO).
This prevents cutting down, uprooting, topping, lopping, willful damage or destruction of trees and roots without our permission.
Any work to a protected tree without consent would result in prosecution. If convicted, you may be fined up to £20,000 in the Magistrates court for each tree. You would also need to replace any tree that has been removed without permission.
Tree Preservation Order
A tree preservation order (TPO) is a legal document, made by the Council, which protects trees that are making a positive contribution to the visual appearance of the area.
Once in place, a TPO enables the Council to control works to these trees.
Within an Order, trees may be identified individually, by groups, as an area or as a woodland. Trees within a hedgerow may be protected but hedges, shrubs and bushes cannot be protected by a TPO. Trees grown as crops, such as fruit trees, are also exempt.
You can check what trees are protected using the Tree Preservation Order street index (PDF, 205KB).
Requests for TPOs
The Council receives requests to make TPOs from Councillors and residents of Bexley, who think that particular trees make an important contribution to their locality.
TPOs may also be made as a result of development proposals being submitted to the Council where the retention of existing trees is considered important. All suggestions for a TPO should be addressed to the Head of Development Management, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tree Preservation in Conservation Areas
The designation of a conservation area, of which there are currently 23 in Bexley borough, provides protection to virtually all trees within its boundary, as well as protecting the buildings.
Section 211 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 makes it an offence for anyone to carry out works to trees in a conservation area without giving the Council six weeks written notice of their intentions.
Exemptions from this requirement apply to works to trees having a stem diameter less than 75mm, measured over the bark, at a distance of 1.5m above ground level, and to trees which are dead, dying or dangerous.
People proposing to undertake works to trees located in a conservation area, that are not already protected by a Tree Preservation Order, must give the Council six weeks written notice. The notice must clearly identify the trees concerned and provide a precise description of the intended operations. Consultation with a tree surgeon before submitting the notification is recommended.
Within the six week period the tree will be inspected and the Council will decide if the works are acceptable or whether the tree should be protected under a TPO.
Trees protected under planning condition
In addition to being protected by a TPO or in a conservation area, trees may also be protected by a condition placed on a planning consent.
The Planning Act places a duty on the Local Planning Authority to consider the retention and protection of existing trees on development sites and the planting of new trees within a scheme of landscaping.
In these cases conditions may require the maintenance of trees within a new development for a period of years after building operations have been completed and permission would be required for works to these trees. You can look up your property planning history by Viewing Planning Applications Online.
Apply to Sponsor a tree in your local area.