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A helpful guide to high hedge disputes

By Barry McCaul, Partner at McGale Kelly & Co., Solicitors

We love a good Leylandii hedge in Northern Ireland. The product of the 80’s and the 90’s to create a quick and cheap way of creating a boundary between properties.

However, with every upside there is a downside and a Leylandii left to its own devices can cause all sorts of conflict between neighbours.
It’s perhaps unfair to lay all the blame on the Leylandii, but unruly, evergreen or semi-evergreen hedges can cause all sorts of strife between property owners. You know that is true when a piece of legislation is enacted to provide some order, namely the High Hedges Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

This legislation provides a legal basis for taking action over a problem high hedge. It has been designed to help people whose enjoyment of their domestic/ residential property is adversely affected by a high hedges located on another persons property.

Your enjoyment of your property will only be considered to have been adversely affected if the high hedge has affected the flow of daylight or sunlight into your property.

If the hedge is limiting the view from your property or satellite signals the legislation does not apply.

What is a High Hedge?

A high hedge is defined in the Act as so much of a barrier to light as is formed wholly or predominantly by a line of two or more evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs and rises to a height of more than two metres above ground level.

The Act introduces a formal complaints system that will be operated by local councils, but it should only be used as a last resort as neighbours are encouraged to resolve the problem themselves.
The legislation does not mean that all hedges above two metres in height will need to be cut down.

A complaint cannot be made about single trees or single shrubs, whatever their size. Nor will people need council permission to grow or retain a hedge along the boundary of their property.

Disputes about High Hedges

The Act provides a formal complaint system which is handled by your local District or Borough Council. However, before you trigger the formal complaints process the legislation expects you to take reasonable steps to try and resolve the problem with your neighbour directly (amicably).

The property owners should ask themselves the following questions:

  1. Does the hedge block light to the main rooms in the neighbour’s home?
  2. Does it deprive the neighbour of winter sunshine?
  3. Does the neighbour have to have their lights on for longer?
  4. Is the neighbour’s garden in shade for much of the day because of the hedge?

If the answer is yes to any of the above questions then it would be sensible to reduce the height of hedge.

What do you do if the common sense approach does not work?

As stated above, the Act has created a formal complaints process. The affected neighbour must fill in a Complaint Form, submit it to the Council and pay a fee of £350 (can vary between Council’s). You should supply a location plan/map of the property and photographs. You must also set out the steps you have taken to resolve the matter prior to making the complaint, e.g. a timeline with dates of meetings and copies of letters/emails passing between the parties involved.

It must be shown that the complaint is not being made in bad faith and that all reasonable efforts have been made to resolve the issue.

The Council will look at the type of points set out at 1-4 above and if they are satisfied that the complaining party’s house is adversely affected (flow of daylight/sunlight restricted) then they will uphold the complaint and issue a Remedial Notice. If not satisfied, the Council can reject the complaint.

A Remedial Notice

A Remedial Notice will set out what steps must be taken by the owner of the property on which the problem high hedge is located. It will also set a time-limit within which the remedial work must be carried out.

The property owner against whom the Remedial Notice has been made has a right to appeal against the decision. The Council will provide the details of how to do this when issuing the Notice.

What happens if the Remedial Notice is not complied with?

If the Remedial Notice is not complied with the property owner against whom it was made will have committed an offence and will be summonsed to the Magistrates’ Court. If convicted, they will be ordered to pay a fine. If the person fails to carry out the works ordered after conviction then they will be subject to further convictions and fines.

In short, if you have an issue with a neighbour’s hedge try to resolve it amicably. If this can’t be done, despite your best efforts, contact your local Council and discuss the complaint process and/or consult your solicitor.

This article should not be deemed to be an exhaustive summary of the provisions of High Hedge Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. Other legal remedies may be available to a property owner who considers their use or enjoyment of their property to be adversely affected.

barry@mcgalekelly.co.uk.

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