The right hedge can be an ideal garden boundary but the wrong hedge may cause problems. Find out what you can do if you think that a hedge on a garden boundary is too high.
The ‘high hedge’ legislation
In 2005, under Part 8 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, the Government introduced legislation to tackle the problems caused by ‘high hedges’. The legislation gives local authorities the power to exercise control over high hedges by investigating complaints made by the public.
The role of the Council is not to mediate or negotiate between the complainant and the hedge owner but to decide on whether the hedge is adversely affecting the complainant’s reasonable enjoyment of their property. In doing so, the Council must take account of all relevant factors and must strike a balance between the competing interests of the complainant and the hedge owner, as well as the interests of the wider community.
The Act requires people to have taken all reasonable steps to have settled their dispute for themselves before taking their complaint to the local authority.
What is a high hedge?
A ‘high hedge’ is defined as a line of two or more evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs that rise to a height of two metres or more above ground level and which form a barrier to light or access.
In making a complaint, the complainant must show to the Council that:
- the problem with the hedge is related to its height; and
- it is adversely affecting the reasonable enjoyment of their own property
The latter point could include obstruction of daylight and sunlight, jointly or as separate issues, as well as a potential loss of view or outlook. In addition, a complaint can made under the Act where a neighbouring hedge makes the complainant’s garden feel claustrophobic. Impact on growing plants may also be a consideration, provided that the damage is attributable to the height of the offending hedge.
Under the legislation, the following factors are not relevant to a high hedge complaint:
- fears the hedge may break or fall
- that the height of the hedge has led to health problems
- that other hedges in the area are maintained at a lower height
- that the hedge was there before the affected property was built or before the complainant moved into it
- the roots of the hedge are affecting neighbouring land or property
What action may be taken?
Formal action by the Council could require the owner of the hedge to reduce its height to a maximum of two metres. The Council cannot require the hedge to be completely removed.
The Council may, however, decide the hedge is not affecting the reasonable enjoyment of the complainant's property and action is not required.
Whatever the outcome of the investigation, both the complainant and hedge owner have a right of appeal against the Council's decision. There is a separate leaflet concerning appeals entitled 'High Hedges - appealing against the Council's decision'. There is no charge for an appeal.
What is the cost?
There is a fee payable to the Council if you make a formal complaint. The fee is currently £207 and relates to the costs to the Council of carrying out the formal investigation and any formal action in relation to the complaint. The fee, payable once the Council has determined to accept the complaint, must be paid in full prior to any further action being taken. The fee is non-returnable regardless of the outcome.
Does the Council have to act on my complaint?
The Council may decline to investigate a complaint where it considers that the complainant has not taken sufficient steps to resolve the matter themselves.
The Government's Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) provides guidance on how you can agree a solution about problem high hedges. Information on how to assess light restriction is also available on the DCLG website.
Before making a complaint, you are advised to read the following Government leaflets;
- 'Over the garden hedge' explains how to attempt to settle your hedge differences without involving the local authority.
- 'High hedges: complaining to the Council' explains what complaints the Council can consider and how it will deal with them.
How do I submit a complaint?
Anyone wishing to make a complaint to the Council must complete the complaint form, together with required enclosures and submit this via post or email. The Council will require evidence to show that the owner/occupier of the land in question has been forewarned by the complainant that the failure to negotiate a solution would lead to the matter being referred to the Council. A copy of the complaint form should also be sent to the owner/occupier of the hedge at the same time it is sent to the Council.
The complaint form and enclosures should be returned to the Planning Department, Broxbourne Borough Council, Borough Offices, Bishops' College, Churchgate, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, EN8 9XQ. Alternatively this can be submitted via email firstname.lastname@example.org