The High Hedges (Scotland) Bill was passed on 28th March. The High Hedges Act will come into force 1st April 2013. The Act aims to provide a solution to the problem of high hedges, where neighbours have not been able to resolve the issue amicably. The Act seeks to provide an effective means of resolving disputes over the effects of high hedges which interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of domestic property.
The Act will give home owners and occupiers a right to apply to a local authority for a high hedge notice and empowers local authorities to make and enforce decisions in relation to high hedges in their local area.
Below is a number of ‘Question & Answers' to provide information on what the bill covers, how it will work.
1. When will the High Hedges (Scotland) Act come into force?
The bill was passed on 28th March 2013 and received Royal Assent on 2nd May 2013 It has been confirmed that the bill will come into force on the 1st April 2014. The guidance will set out guidelines on making a complaint and also on the criteria that councils will be using to adjudicate on complaints to ensure that the process is transparent.
2. Meaning of a "high hedge"
This Act applies in relation to a hedge (referred to in the Act as a "high hedge") which:
a. is formed wholly or mainly by a row of 2 or more trees or shrubs
b. rises to a height of more than 2 metres above ground level, and
c. forms a barrier to light.
A hedge is not to be regarded as forming a barrier to light if it has gaps which significantly reduce its overall effect as a barrier at heights of more than 2 metres.
In applying the Act in relation to a high hedge, no account is to be taken of the roots of a high hedge.
3. Will all trees be covered by the bill?
No. Single trees will not be covered, and it will be for the investigating tree officer to decide whether trees planted closely together form a hedge, or not.
4. I’ve heard that only hedges made up of certain types of trees will be covered, is this true?
No. All types of hedge – whether they be made up of evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous trees – will be covered by the bill. However, the hedge must be over 2 metres tall before it can begin to be considered a high hedge – but not all hedges over 2 metres will automatically be termed a ‘high hedge’ – only if a complaint is made and that complaint is upheld by the council.
5. Do I need to do anything before I make a complaint to the council?
Yes. Before making a complaint, you must be able to demonstrate to the local authority that you have tried to reach a solution with the hedge owner by alternative means – such as by mediation. Where the issue has been longstanding, fresh attempts must be evidenced, such correspondence must be sufficiently recent and include at least one document dated after the 1st April 2014.
6. I have tried to reach an agreement with my neighbour, but haven’t been able to. What do I do next?
If you’ve been unable to reach an agreement over the hedge, at that point you will be able to raise a complaint with the local authority. A fee will be payable at this point by the person making the complaint. This is in order to ensure that councils can cover the costs of investigating the complaint. It will be for councils to decide how the fee structure will operate, including whether or not refunds will be offered to complainants where the complaint is successful. This also includes whether or not to offer any discount to those receiving benefits or pensions.
7. What happens after I’ve paid the fee and the complaint is lodged?
The local authority will notify the hedge owner that a complaint has been made, and then someone from the local authority will go out to the property to assess the hedge, and its impact on the light levels of the complainant’s property.
Once they have made a decision, they will notify both parties of their decision.
8. The local authority has said that the hedge is not a high hedge, but I disagree. What can I do next?
If you disagree with the decision of the local authority, you will have the right of appeal to Scottish Government ministers.
9. The local authority has determined that the hedge is a high hedge. What happens next?
The local authority will communicate their decision to both parties, and the hedge owner will be given a deadline by which to meet the terms of the high hedge notice. If they fail to take the remedial action on the hedge in that time, the local authority will arrange for the work to be carried out. The council will have the power to recover the cost of any work carried out from the hedge owner.
10. I am the hedge owner. The council have said my hedge needs to be cut back but I disagree - can I appeal?
Yes. Both sides have the same right of appeal to Scottish Government ministers. Both parties can only appeal once.
11. I live in a property which suffers from lack of light due to a high hedge, but the hedge is not on land immediately adjoining my property. Can I still make a complaint?
Yes. The hedge does not have to be on land immediately neighbouring the property of the person making the complaint. It just needs to be a significant barrier to light.
12. Does the bill cover issues such as problems caused by pine needles blocking trains, leaf fall and root damage?
No. Where plant life is causing damage to a property, there are existing civil methods which exist to address these issues. This bill is designed to deal with the problems resulting specifically from hedges creating a significant barrier to light.
13. Will the bill be reviewed?
Yes. The bill contains specific statutes to ensure that it will be reviewed within five years. This includes a review of the definition, so that changes can be made if required.
14. What is the fee for an application?
Th fee for an application is £401.
15. How do I apply?
An application form needs to be submitted with the fee of £401 and details of attempts to deal with matters, i.e letters to neighbours should also be submitted with the application.