Since 2005 local councils have had the power to intervene in disputes about high hedges in certain limited circumstances. Most of the attention is focused on Leylandii and other cypress type hedges, but any evergreen hedge may be considered.
Talking to your neighbours
The best way to deal with a problem with your neighbour's high hedge is always to negotiate with them. Remember that no matter what happens to the hedge, you still have to live next door to the neighbours. Going in with all guns blazing is not going to improve your relationship with them at all, and what's more your council is unable to take action unless you can prove that you have made significant efforts to negotiate and these have failed.
The Department of Communities and Local Government produce a leaflet on negotiating with your neighbours, which you can find on the DCLG website.
How can the council help?
Local councils in England and Wales have powers to intervene in certain disputes over high hedges. Complaining to the council about your neighbour's hedge is a last resort and before you go down this route you must try to resolve the issue with your neighbour amicably. You will have to show evidence of the efforts that you have made to reach an amicable solution, so make sure you keep records of correspondence.
Many councils make a charge for investigating a high hedge complaint. You can find a leaflet entitiled High Hedges: Complaining to the council on the DCLG website.
What sort of hedges are covered?
The legislation is restricted to certain types of hedges. In order for a complaint to be dealt with by the council the hedge must:
- Be wholly or predominantly evergreen or semi-evergreen. This means it must retain some live foliage throughout the year. Beech hedges, for example, are excluded as although they often retain leaves throughout the winter, these leaves are dead and brown.
- Consist of a line of two or more trees or shrubs. The legislation does not apply to single trees.
- Be at least 2m in height. This is measured from natural ground level at the point at which the hedge is growing, usually on the hedge owners land.
- Form a barrier to light or access.
- Adversely affect your enjoyment of your property by virtue of its height. Problems related to hedge roots are specifically excluded.
What will the council do?
After verifying that you have made sufficient effort to resolve the problem amicably with your neighbour and that the hedge does come within the scope of the legislation, the council will set about investigating your complaint.
They will want to obtain statements from both you and your neighbours. They will visit the site to take detailed measurements of the hedge and garden and assess the condition of the hedge.
After considering all these factors they will decide whether or not the hedge is intefering with your reasonable enjoyment of your property. If so, they will decide if it should be reduced in height, and by how much. If they believe the hedge is too high they will issue a formal notice to your neighbour, known as a "Remedial notice", requiring them to reduce the height of the hedge. The notice may also specify that the hedge must continue to be maintained at a specified height.
Is there a set maximum height for hedges?
No. Although a hedge that is less than 2m tall does not come within the scope of the legislation, this does not mean that all hedges must be reduced to 2m.
The council have to consider what is reasonable, taking into account both your views and those of your neighbours. The precise height will depend on the individual case. The government have issued complex guidelines on making these assessments - you can find more information on the DCLG website.
Can I appeal against the council's decision?
Whether or not you can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate depends on the nature of the decision made by the Council, who you are and your reasons (or grounds) for disagreeing with the decision in question. You can find out more about appealing from the leaflet High hedges: appealing against the Council’s decision available on the DCLG website.