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Council steps in to sort out hedge disputes

Published Thursday, 20 September 2012

Neighbours at war over the height of their garden hedges will soon be able to turn to Wellingborough Council to help them settle disputes.

The council's resources committee met last night (Wednesday 19 September) and agreed to formally adopt part 8 of the Antisocial Behaviour Act, which allows the local authority to help in cases where hedges overshadow neighbouring homes and gardens to such an extent that 'reasonable enjoyment' of the property is affected.

The council has been legally allowed to intervene in high hedge disputes since 2005, but hasn't had the need to adopt the legislation or agree fees for the service until now. A rise in complaints about neighbours' hedges has led the council to agree to formally step in from now on and negotiate a resolution when all other avenues have been exhausted.

Before the council can get involved in disputes, neighbours will have to show evidence, such as letters or notes, that they've tried to resolve the issue themselves. Any hedge at the centre of a dispute will also have to be an evergreen, more than two metres tall, made up of more than two or more trees or shrubs in a line, and capable of obstructing light or views. If the council is satisfied that they should be involved, they will then hear the views of the both the person complaining and the neighbour, before visiting the property to judge the situation. Other facts, such as the size of the garden or how far away the hedge is from windows will also be taken into account before a decision is reached.

If the council decides the complaint is justified, the owner of the hedge will be issued with a formal notice that tells them what action needs to be taken and by when. Because of the time involved in sorting out the disputes, the council's resources committee agreed to charge a fee of £30 for pre-application advice, and £400 for up to eight hours work on resolving the dispute. The fees are in line with other local authorities that also offer this service.

Councillor Paul Bell, chairman of the resources committee, said: "We are getting more and more enquiries about what help we can give to people who are having issues with neighbours' hedges. So far, these enquiries have been satisfied by referring people to government leaflets that offer advice on sorting out the dispute themselves, but as the problem seems to be increasing we felt we needed to make sure we were ready if we are asked to officially step in. The law's quite specific about what we can and can't do - we can only deal with problems caused by the hedge being too tall, and we'll have to take into account both sides of the story before reaching a fair decision. It's not an offence to have a tall hedge so we can't order people to chop their hedges down, but if we decide that the hedge adversely affects the reasonable enjoyment of the neighbour's property - by blocking out sunlight for example - we can do something about it. Coming to the council should be seen as a last resort, but if people have exhausted every other way of resolving their dispute and have nowhere else to turn, we are now in a position where we can offer to help."

Advice, information and complaint application forms are available at http://www.wellingborough.gov.uk/