High Hedges Act 2013
On 1 April 2014 a new Act aimed at resolving disputes between neighbours over the size of garden hedges came into effect. The legislation is intended to provide a solution to problems caused by hedges which grow over two metres tall, and block out light. The legislation gives homeowners and occupiers of domestic properties a right to apply to a local authority for a High Hedge Notice, and empowers local authorities to enforce decisions made in relation to high hedges in their local area.
There remains however an expectation that people should take all reasonable steps to resolve the issue themselves; however there may be occasions when this isn’t possible. “In those situations, the Act will allow, upon the paying of an appropriate fee, people to make an application to their Local Council to intervene, and if the hedge is a barrier to light, then action can be taken.”
Making an Application
Making an application to the Council for a High Hedge Notice is a last resort rather than the first port of call. A potential applicant should take all reasonable steps to resolve the issue themselves before making their application.
In dealing with applications, the Council shall act as independent and impartial adjudicators and should seek to strike a balance between the competing rights of neighbours to enjoy their respective properties and the rights of the community in general. Decisions on what action should be taken are for the Council to make because individual circumstances will differ and any action needed to resolve the dispute should take account of the facts and circumstances of each individual case.
Once an application has been accepted by the Council, they will arrange a site visit to assess whether the hedge is a high hedge and whether it impacts adversely on the reasonable enjoyment of a property. After considering all the information and evidence, the Council is obliged to notify both the applicant and the hedge owner of their decision and the reasons for coming to that decision.
High Hedge Notice
A High Hedge Notice must set out what initial action should be taken by the hedge owner, outline any preventative action to stop the issue recurring and a “compliance period”, by which time the works must be carried out. Failure to comply means the Council may use its powers of entry to the land upon which the hedge is situated to carry out the remedial work themselves and charge the hedge owner for any expenses incurred.
If the applicant or the hedge owner is unhappy with the Council’s decision, they have the right of appeal to Scottish Ministers within 28 days of being notified of the decision by the Council. The appeal will be examined by the Scottish Government’s Directorate of Planning & Environmental Appeals (DPEA) and the outcome of their decision is final.
Statutory guidance to Councils on their responsibilities under the High Hedges (Scotland) Act 2013 has been provided by the Scottish Government.
For trees or shrubs to be considered as a High Hedge, they must first be a hedge. A hedge is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as:
“A row of bushes or low trees (e.g. a hawthorn, or privet) planted closely to form a boundary between pieces of land or at the sides of a road”
The definition of a “high hedge” in accordance with the Act is:
“a row of two or more trees or shrubs, rising to a height of more than two metres above ground level, and which forms a barrier to light”.
The Act does not make it illegal to grow leylandii and other vigorous growing plants. Simply growing a hedge itself is not illegal.
As set out above, in dealing with applications, the local authority shall act as independent and impartial adjudicators and should seek to strike a balance between the competing rights of neighbours to enjoy their respective properties and the rights of the community in general. The Act also empowers a local authority to set out its own processes which must be attempted prior to an application for a High Hedge Notice. The Act also allows the local authority to set its own fee which must accompany an application for a High Hedge Notice. The current fee set by Aberdeenshire Council is £450.
Prior to applying for a High Hedge Notice, Aberdeenshire Council require that an applicant, irrespective of how long an issue has persisted, must demonstrate that they have:
(a) within the three months prior to the submission of an application for a high hedge notice the applicant must first have communicated with his/her neighbour, bringing the issue of the high hedge to their neighbour’s attention;
(b) should this approach fail, then the potential applicant should attempt mediation to address the issue. Discussions with SACRO a community justice organization which offers free mediation services to neighbour’s with disputes indicated their willingness to assist in such mediation. SACRO are contactable at 110 Crown Street Aberdeen AB11 6HJ (01224 560 550) or via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org; or Website : http://www.sacro.org.uk/services/offices/Aberdeen
(c) at least two weeks prior to applying for a high hedge notice, you should once more write to your neighbour advising of your intention to apply for a high hedge notice.
Should the above approaches fail to address the issue, then you may apply to the Council for a High Hedge Notice, which must be accompanied by a fee of £450. This fee is non-refundable.
Should the pre requirements as set out above not be followed, then the Council may refuse to determine an application for a High Hedge Notice until they are satisfied the procedure has been followed.
High Hedge Notice Application
An application form is available within the ePlanning Portal, once completed the form can be emailed to: email@example.com or posted to: EPlanning, Aberdeenshire Council, Viewmount, Arduthie Road, Stonehaven, AB39 2DQ.
Payment of the £450 fee may be made electronically by telephoning Aberdeenshire Council on:
Banff & Buchan: 01261 813210
Buchan: 01779 483724
Formartine: 01358 726429
Garioch: 01467 534333
Kincardine & Mearns: 01569 768300
Marr: 01569 768300
Prior to making an electronic payment, please allow two working days following submission of your application to allow for the processing of your application form and appropriate reference numbers to be created which will allow an electronic payment to be made.
Informal advice can be obtained by emailing; firstname.lastname@example.org