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Disputes about high hedges

This advice applies to Scotland

Summary of problem and what you can do

When neighbours have a dispute about a high hedge or a number of trees creating a hedge-like structure there is some help available to solve the problem. Many neighbours find it very difficult to solve the problems of the height and spread of hedges and trees that border their properties because it is their home and they want to have control of what happens in and around it. There is a recommended way of trying to solve the problem by following the steps below. You could also consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Step 1 - Talk to your neighbour

The quickest and easiest way to solve a problem with a high hedge is to talk to your neighbour.

If you are bothered by the high hedge you can ask them to cut the tree/hedge back. If you know your neighbour is annoyed by your hedge you can try to negotiate a solution. An informal approach to a neighbour and a negotiated agreement will always be a quicker and more satisfactory solution to the problem.

Sometimes a neighbour does not understand what impact their hedge/trees have on your property and garden. Equally you may not properly understand their need for privacy and not being overlooked. If each side can compromise on what they want it is more likely that an agreement can be made.

If there is no possibility of an agreement you can maybe agree to get help from a mediator. Some local authorities provide a mediation service. There may also be a mediation service run by SACRO in your area. Further details are on the SACRO website at www.sacro.org.uk.

If you are worried about trying to negotiate with your neighbour because there have already been incidents between you, or generally in the neighbourhood, of verbal abuse or harassment from your neighbour you can discuss this with your local authority. It has powers to deal with antisocial behaviour.

The local authority cannot make any orders about the roots of the tree/hedge. If there is a dispute about how the roots affect the neighbouring property other ways of resolving the problem may have to be used.

Step 2 - Options if your neighbour is unwilling to reach an agreement about the high hedge problem

The law defines the 'high hedge' quite specifically as a hedge formed by 2 or more trees or shrubs that are 2 metres (6 and a half feet) or more above ground level AND that it forms a barrier to light. You have no right to enter your neighbour's property to measure the height of the hedge. You will have to do this from your side of the wall or fence.

You may find very tall Leylandii or other bushy evergreens in your neighbour’s garden annoying but if they do not block light to your property the local authority is unlikely to be willing to get involved.

Some local authorities may make going to mediation a requirement before accepting an application for a high hedge notice. Each local authority has to publicise what rules it adopts for the high hedge scheme in its area.

If the neighbours have a serious communication problem and are anxious about whether or not they will be able to resolve the dispute face-to-face it might be helpful to write a letter [ 46 kb]. This can be used as evidence that attempts have been made to try to discuss it with the neighbour.

The high hedge is not on a neighbouring property

When a 'high hedge' blocks light to properties which are not next door to the ground in which it is growing, the owners of these properties can still complain about the impact on them and may want to apply for a high hedge notice.

What happens if there is a Tree Preservation Order in place or the tree is in a conservation area

Some trees are protected. If a tree blocking light to your garden or property has a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) in place to protect it, or it is in a conservation area, the local authority has to take account of this in its assessment of a high hedge problem. If the local authority agrees to issue a high hedge notice, the notice will override the TPO. 

Step 3 - Making the application to the local authority for a high hedge notice

You can check the website of your local authority for guidance on how to apply. Some local authorities may produce a pro forma. You can find what local authority you live in from www.gov.uk and it will provide a link to your authority's website. You may also be able to get information about what is happening in your area.

How much does it cost

The fee for applying for a high hedge notice should be clearly stated on the application form and the local authority website. Each local authority may charge different fees for different types of application. For example, if the high hedge is protected and/or is very large then experts may need to be called in to assess the situation. This could affect the fee.

When a number of neighbours are affected by a high hedge on only one property, each may have to apply for a high hedge notice for the section of the hedge that affects them.

What happens after the application is submitted

The application is assessed against the rules of what a high hedge is and also what impact it has on you and your property. The local authority also checks how much effort has been made to resolve the problem.

Assessment of the application

The local authority assesses the application to check if it fits the legal criteria. It will be checking:

  • does it meet the definition of being 2 or more trees or shrubs that forms a hedge, and
  • does the applicant claim that it is blocking out light, and
  • has the applicant tried to resolve the problem with the high hedge owner.

The application is likely to be invalid and will not be taken any further by the local authority if any of these three criteria is missing. For example if a picture is submitted with the application showing only one tree, whatever its size, this application is likely to be dismissed. The applicant and neighbour should be advised of this as soon as possible after the decision is made.

Application is not accepted

If your application is not accepted there is a number of options you can take although there is no statutory appeal to the local authority against this decision. You can:

  • make a complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
  • apply for a review of how the local authority has made this decision. This is called judicial review.

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO)

The SPSO can investigate your complaint about the decision that was made. This is a free service and recommendations can be made about how to correct the situation if the SPSO agrees it needs to be changed. The SPSO can also decide not to investigate you complaint.

Judicial review

Judicial review has to take place in court. It is a review by a judge of the decision taken by the local authority and whether the decision was made in the right way based on the law. It could be both time-consuming and expensive. There is a strict time limit for an application. It has to be made within 3 months of the decision made by the local authority.

You will usually need help to apply for a judicial review. You could consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Application is accepted

If your application is successful the local authority will start an investigation usually involving a visit to see you and the hedge. The local authority should normally send a letter of acknowledgement to the applicant and the high hedge owner explaining briefly what procedure it will follow. The local authority will not copy personal details, for example, an email address to any other party involved. Each party has 28 days to make comments. This is an opportunity for each of the parties to explain the situation in more detail.

Step 4 - Local authority investigates problem and makes a decision

The following decisions can be made after the investigation is complete:

  • there is no requirement for a high hedge notice. In some cases even if light is being blocked from a property there may be overriding concerns that mean the local authority does not agree to a high hedge notice being issued
  • a high hedge notice is required to solve the problem now and action must be taken by a specific date. This is called the 'compliance period'.

The applicant and owner of the high hedge have to be notified about the high hedge notice. In addition if the high hedge is in a National Park its head office also has to be made aware of the high hedge notice.

What does having a high hedge notice mean

A high hedge notice takes effect 28 days after it is issued. This provides time for the hedge owner to make necessary arrangements to take the action required or to appeal if they choose to do so.

Once issued, a high hedge notice is binding on the current owner and subsequent owners.

The high hedge notice may also have instructions about regular maintenance, for the future, to prevent the problem arising again.

High hedge owner removes hedge

If a decision is taken by a high hedge owner to remove it completely it should let the local authority know this as the high hedge notice can them be withdrawn from that address.

Step 5 - Appeals against the local authority decision

An appeal can be made against the following decisions made by the local authority:

  • not to issue a high hedge notice after investigation by the local authority
  • if a high hedge notice is issued
  • if a high hedge notice is withdrawn
  • a high hedge notice is varied.

For example two large horse chestnut trees have been blocking light from an adjoining garden for many years. On the other side of the trees other residential properties are sheltered from extreme weather by the trees and they are all listed buildings. On balance the local authority may decide that the needs of the listed buildings are greater than the one occupier affected by light being blocked. If you are the one owner whose garden is blocked by light you might want to appeal about a high hedge notice being refused and you may have to say why your need for it is greater than the neighbours in the listed buildings.

Your appeal will be dealt with by an official called 'a reporter'. If you decide to employ a professional advisor you will have to pay for their services.

There is no appeal if an application is dismissed because it doesn't meet the legal criteria but you could apply for a judicial review.

Appeals have to be made within 28 days of you being advised about the local authority decision.

Before making an appeal you should make sure you understand the reasons behind the decision the local authority has taken. You will need to explain why you want to appeal therefore understanding why the local authority has taken the action it did is important for appealing against it.

You will usually need help to do this. You could consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

You could also make a complaint to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman if you think there are grounds to do so.

How to appeal

An appeal must be made on a high hedges appeal form which is on the eplanning website at eplanning.scot or by phoning 01324 696400. There is also information on the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals (DPEA) website at www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk about submitting an online appeal or you can write to the DPEA at:

DPEA
Unit 4
Callendar Business Park
Falkirk
FK1 1XR

Multiple appeals

It is possible that both parties affected by the decision made by the local authority about a high hedge notice application will want to appeal against the decision. This is allowed in this process.

Other problems

What happens if the high hedge owner does not meet the requirement of the high hedge notice

If the owner fails to take the action required in the high hedge notice the local authority can organise for the action to be taken by an authorised person (section 22 of the High Hedges (Scotland) Act 2013).

The authorised person can enter the land and deal with the high hedge. The hedge owner should be given 14 days notice that the local authority is going to take this action. If the hedge owner refuses to give entry to their land the local authority can apply to the court for a warrant.

An offence is committed, punishable by a fine of up to £1,000, if anyone tries to prevent the local authority or other designated person from entering land to take the required action in the high hedge notice.

Paying for the high hedge to be cut back

Who pays for the work done by the local authority

When the owner of the high hedge does not meet the requirements of the high hedge notice the local authority will organise for the work to be done and send the bill to the owner of the high hedge.

The current owner is then liable for this debt. Administrative costs and interest will be added to this debt periodically as long as it remains unpaid.

What happens if the bill isn’t paid

When the owner does not pay the bill the local authority will issue warning letters and attempt to get the owner to pay. Ultimately it can register a notice of liability for expenses with Registers of Scotland (section 25 of the High Hedges (Scotland) Act 2013).

If there is a joint owner for the neighbouring land they are jointly and severally liable for the bill (section 25(2) of the High Hedges (Scotland) Act 2013).

If the property changes hands before the bill is paid the incoming owner becomes severally liable for the debt as long as the notice for liability has been registered at least 14 days beforehand (section 27 of the High Hedges (Scotland) Act 2013). The financial burden of this on the new owner may be negotiated between the solicitors involved in doing the conveyancing work.

If the new owner pays the debt on the property, action can be taken to recover the sum from the previous owner who continues to be jointly and severally liable for it.

What happens once the bill is paid

Once the bill is paid the local authority has to register a 'notice of discharge' on the property register to show that the debt has been paid.

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