Tall hedges can be a nuisance, especially where neighbours can’t agree on a suitable height amicably. However, legislation now gives people whose gardens are overshadowed the opportunity to resolve the problem with the help of the local council.
What are high hedges?
The term ‘high hedges’ was subjective until it was defined by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003: Part 8 in 2005. This is a summary of what constitutes a high hedge under the law:
- The hedge is more than 2m (approx 6½ft) tall (there is extra guidance for hedge heights on slopes)
- A hedge is defined as a line of two or more trees or shrubs
- The hedge is formed wholly or predominantly of evergreens (these don’t lose their leaves in winter) or semi-evergreen ones (that stay green most of the year)
- Bamboo and ivy are not included
- Where a hedge is predominantly evergreen, the deciduous trees and shrubs within the hedge may be included in the work specified. However, a council can exclude specific trees or require different work
Making a complaint
The high hedges legislation has been designed so that the general public is able to use it without the need to involve lawyers. This would be a simple sequence of events:
- Where you feel that a hedge is too tall and affects the ‘reasonable’ enjoyment of your house or garden, the first step is to negotiate with your neighbours. Keep a copy of any letters to demonstrate you have tried.
If negotiation is unsuccessful, contact your local council to enquire about using the high hedges legislation. There is a fee for making a complaint (typically £400) to deter frivolous applications
- The local council will consider both sides’ cases and make a decision
- The council will reject the complaint or issue a notice for the work – including the period in which to cut the hedge back and by how much
- There is a chance to appeal
- It is advisable for the hedge to be cut below the requested height. This will allow the hedge to grow in between trimmings, but still remain below the stipulated height
For more information on the complaints procedure, see the Communities and Local Goverment website: guidance on high hedges legislation.
How much will the hedge be cut back by?
Although the law states that a high hedge is more than 2m (approx 6½ft) tall, this is not necessarily the height to which a hedge is reduced. The final height will be decided by your local council based on the requirements and information provided by the complainant and hedge owner. For example, the following issues can be taken into consideration:
- The hedge blocks too much light to a neighbour’s house or garden. However, the legislation does not guarantee access to uninterrupted light
- The hedge is on a slope, so is more overbearing
- The hedge blocks a view. This is a valid complaint but, by itself, is unlikely to be enough to justify action
There are guidelines (not mandatory) in the government’s Hedge height and light loss.
Fact and fiction
There are some common misconceptions about the high hedges law, some of which are explained below.
What the law can do:
- It can override Tree Preservation Orders (TPO), although these should be considered when the complaint is evaluated
- It may be decided that a hedge needs to be cut back in stages (e.g. over a period of three years to minimise the risk of killing the hedge)
What the law can’t do:
- It cannot require the removal of a hedge
- Work that would result in the death of a hedge is not permitted
- The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it an offence to destroy any bird’s nest that is either in use or being built. The period given for cutting should take into account that, where birds are nesting in a hedge, work should not be carried out between March and August
- Require homeowners to get permission to grow a hedge above 2m (6½ft)
- When a hedge grows over 2m (6½ft), the local authority does not automatically take action, unless a justifiable complaint is made
- The law can not be used as a preventative measure – the hedge must already be above 2m (approx 6½ft) tall and impairing reasonable enjoyment
The advice provided here is just a quick guide. There is considerably more detailed information available from the Communities and Local Government’s website, including an extensive Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section. They have produced a series of booklets detailing how to complain and respond to complaints. These are available by post or can be downloaded free from their website and include the following titles:
- Hedges – How to resolve disputes without involving the council
- High Hedges: complaining to the Council – How to go about making a complaint
- Hedge Height and Light Loss – Detailed guidance on assessing the effect of light loss with respect to the legislation
- High Hedges Complaints: Prevention and Cure – Detailed guidance on implementing the legislation
You can also contact your local council.
RHS Policy Statements
- Where appropriate, hedges are often the best solution for providing gardens with privacy and shelter. They are environmentally beneficial, both for wildlife and as an entirely renewable resource
- The RHS recognises that hedges are often not a suitable solution for garden boundaries under modern conditions, and suggests that gardeners consider fences, where long term hedge care and size restriction are not possible
- Where hedges are appropriate, gardeners will benefit by choosing subjects that will not grow too large, or require more maintenance than can be given. The RHS recommends that this information be made freely available and has published its guide to hedges on the Internet
- Although removal and replacement of large hedges can lead to great expense, inconvenience and loss of privacy, the RHS recommends that they be dealt with, as in the long run, a better garden for the owner and improved local environment will result