High hedges: resolving neighbour disputes
High Hedges Legislation - Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 Part 8
You should find this information useful whether you are a hedge owner or believe your neighbour's hedge is affecting you.
The city council has produced a leaflet titled High Hedges (PDF, 2 MB) .
The law requires local councils to determine certain very restricted complaints about high hedges. The Council can determine that there is no nuisance or that there is a nuisance. The nuisance is loss of reasonable enjoyment of your property and is based on loss of light to your garden or main rooms of your property. A fee is charged for this service. Fees are set annually by Gloucester City Council. Applicants who are in receipt of income support, pension credit guarantee or a state retirement pension may pay a reduced fee. A fee is charged as the Government view is that high hedge complaints are essentially a private matter and should not be funded through local council tax sources.
If a nuisance is found, a notice can be issued on the land where the hedge is. The notice may require the owner to reduce its height to a set level and keep it below this level by annual trimming. Timescales for action will be set. If the notice is ignored the owner or occupier can be fined in a magistrates court, currently £1000 (max) with a potential daily increase until the required action is taken, and/or the Council can arrange for the work to be done. Costs will be recovered from the owner of the hedge as a charge on the property.
To decide if the hedge in question comes under the Act, the answer to all the following points must be "Yes":
- Have you tried to resolve the issue amicably with the hedge owner and can you show the city council how you have done this? (For example, copies of letters/emails sent and received from the hedge owner)
- Does the hedge act to some degree as a barrier to light or access - even though it might have gaps in it?
- Are there two or more trees or shrubs in it and are these roughly in line?
- Is the hedge comprised wholly or predominantly of evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs?
- Is it over 2 metres high?
- Is it growing on land owned by somebody else?
- Are you the owner or occupier (for example, tenant) of the property affected by the hedge?
- Is the affected property residential?
If any one of these conditions is not met, the council cannot assist, by law. However, the whole hedge does not need to meet these conditions, as long as some parts of it qualify.
What do I do next?
It's advisable to contact the tree officer on 01452 396396 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Only the owner or the occupier of affected dwellings can bring a complaint. Tenants should check their tenancy agreement before contacting the council.
If you wish to proceed with a complaint, please download a high hedges complaint form form (PDF, 881.7 KB) , or phone 01452 396 396
You'll need to return the form together with the fee and evidence that you have approached your neighbours recently to try and resolve the issue amicably.
What can the council do?
The council has powers to require an owner to reduce the height of any hedge that meets the criteria above so that it reduces the nuisance caused to neighbours. The council cannot cause any tree or hedge to be removed under these powers (though an owner can do so if they think that is an easier solution), and cannot require a hedge to be lowered more than needed to remove the nuisance. The council cannot order that a hedge is reduced below 2 metres in height.
If an owner refuses to take action after receipt of a notice, the council can take action itself, as it has powers of entry (the owner would be billed for the work) and/or can prosecute in the Magistrates Court. Before this stage, the owner can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, as can you if you believe the council's response is inadequate. However there is no recourse to appeal if your complaint is rejected as not meeting all the criteria.
My problem is not covered by this Act - what can I do?
You have the common law right to cut back to your boundary any tree or hedge branches that overhang your land (unless you live in a conservation area or the tree is protected by a TPO order, in which case the council's permission should be sought). You do not have any right to "lop" the top of such trees or hedges. Likewise you can cut back any roots. It is courteous to inform your neighbour first, and agree on the best way to dispose of any pruned branches rather than throwing them back over the fence.
The Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to point you to a mediator, but anyone, say a friend or other neighbour, can mediate on your behalf if you feel diffident about approaching the owner.
Hedgeline is an organisation for those who are campaigning about high hedges. It gives useful advice for making a complaint.