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BRIEFING SUMMARY From the DETR. February 27th 2001

The Bill creates a new means of dealing with complaints about high hedges, to be administered by local authorities in England and Wales. .


l Any owner/occupier of residential property would be able to complain to their local authority (district or unitary councils, London Boroughs, or the City of London in England, and Welsh equivalents) about a hedge provided that:

  1. it comprises evergreen trees or shrubs;
  2. the hedge is over 2 metres high; and
  3. it is unreasonably obstructing light to their home or garden.

The Secretary of State (for England) and the National Assembly for Wales would have powers to vary these requirements through regulations. Experience might, for example, show that the definitions were excluding many problem cases.

As to what is meant by unreasonably obstructing light, the Building Research Establishment (BRE) with the Tree Advice Trust are to develop objective tests that would show:

  • if a hedge is obstructing daylight and/or sunlight;
  • whether this is unreasonable;
  • and how much it needs to be reduced by

Draft guidelines are expected by Easter 2001, and the final version by the summer. It is envisaged these will be incorporated in guidance rather than the legislation itself.

The aim is to have simple tests so that householders and local authorities can use it without specialist input. It is hoped this will help to cut down numbers of complaints because people would be able to predict the outcome and it would enable them to negotiate with hedge owners from a position of strength.

It is acknowledged that light is not the only problem - though it tends to be the main one. The BRE work should help establish how far this one measurement encompasses other hedge problems and so can be used as a proxy.

Complaints Procedure
The local authority would able to charge a fee, to be paid by the complainant(s). They would also be able to reject the complaint if they considered that the complainant had not taken all reasonable steps to resolve the matter amicably, or that it was frivolous or vexatious.

In each case, the local authority would decide whether to require the hedge owner to take action to remedy the problem and to prevent it recurring. As well as the obstruction caused by the hedge, the authority would take into account all other relevant factors, such as: points raised by the owner eg

  • privacy;
  • the impact on the wider amenity of the area.

    If the local authority decided that action should be taken to remedy the complaint, they would issue a formal notice to the hedge owner setting out what they must do and by when. This could well include maintenance of the hedge at a lower height. It would be known as a remedial notice.

    Both hedge owners and complainants would have rights of appeal against the local authoritys decision.

    Although the right of appeal would be to the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales, it is anticipated that they will exercise their power to delegate such appeals to the Planning Inspectorate. There would also be provision for them to make regulations governing the appeal procedure.

    Failure to comply with a remedial notice would be an offence liable, on conviction in the magistrates court, to a level 3 fine (up to 1,000). The court would then issue an order for the offender to carry out the required work within a set period of time. There would be a further offence of failure to comply with the court order, liable to a level 3 fine. At this point, the court would also be able to set a daily fine of up to one twentieth of a level 3 fine for every day that the work remains outstanding thereafter.

    In addition, the local authority would be given (default) powers to go in and do the work itself, recovering its costs from the hedge owner. They would be able to use these powers whether or not the criminal offence was pursued.

    Crown land
    The legislation would apply to all Crown land.

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    The High Hedges Bill applies to England and Wales only.

    This is a devolved matter. The Scottish Executive announced on 31 January, following a separate consultation there, that they had decided in principle that a statutory remedy of last resort was required, involving complaints to the local authority and enforcement action in appropriate cases. No commitment was given as to when legislation would be brought forward.

    Northern Ireland do not believe they have a high hedge problem and so have no plans to legislate on the matter.


    The main costs will fall on the local authorities who administer the complaints system. It is estimated that it will cost them some 2 million to deal with a backlog of some 10,000 existing problem cases, spread over a period of 3 years. Thereafter the caseload should drop dramatically. These costs will be met, in part at least, through fees paid by complainants.

    The Secretary of State intends to delegate his appeals functions entirely to the Planning Inspectorate, who will incur costs in handling these matters. Assuming 20% of cases go to appeal, this could amount to around 2 million over a 3-year period. The Inspectorate will not, however, begin incurring these costs until about 6 months after the legislation comes into force. Demand is expected to fall significantly at the end of 3 years when the backlog of existing hedge problem cases has been cleared.

    COSTS TO BUSINESS AND REGULATORY IMPACT Businesses, charities and voluntary organisations are unlikely to be affected by the Bill. The main impacts will be felt by public sector bodies. These are summarised in the preceding section.

    EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS (ECHR) It is considered that the High Hedges Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

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