There is no automatic right to enter onto neighbouring land for the purpose of pruning a hedge. A person who enters on to the land of another without their permission or some other form of lawful authority commits a trespass.
If you wish to enter onto your neighbour’s land for the purpose of pruning a hedge which belongs to you, you should in the first instance seek your neighbour’s permission. If their permission is not forthcoming it may be possible to obtain an “access order” under the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992.
In what circumstances can an access order be granted?
The Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992 gives the County Court and the High Court (an application will normally, however, be made in the County Court) the power to make an access order where a person wishes to enter upon land which adjoins their own land or is adjacent to their own land and needs, but does not have, the permission to enter upon that land provided that all of the following conditions are met:
the works must be reasonably necessary for the preservation of the whole or any part of the applicant’s land;
such works cannot be carried out, or it would be substantially more difficult to carry out such works, without entry upon the neighbour’s land;
where the application relates to the maintenance of a hedge, the hedge is, or is in danger of becoming, damaged, diseased, dangerous, insecurely rooted or dead.
Since it is necessary to show that the hedge is, or is in danger of becoming, damaged, diseased, dangerous, insecurely rooted or dead a Court will not grant an access order in respect of routine maintenance.
A court will not make an access order if any of the following situations apply:
where the neighbour or any other person would suffer interference with, or disturbance of, his use or enjoyment of the neighbouring land were an access order to be made to such a degree by reason of the entry that it would be unreasonable to make such an order;
where the neighbour, or any other person in occupation of the whole or any part of the neighbouring land, would suffer hardship were an access order to be made to such a degree by reason of the entry that it would be unreasonable to make such an order;
where the neighbouring land upon which access is sought is a highway.
What rights and obligations does a person who is a party to an access order have?
If an access order is made it will specify what works are permitted, the part of the neighbouring land that may be entered upon for the purpose of carrying out such works and the date on which, or the period during which, the neighbouring land may be entered upon.
An access order may also impose certain terms and conditions on the parties. For example, the Court may impose conditions as to the manner in which the work is to be carried out or require the applicant to ensure that he is insured in respect of any loss or damage suffered by the neighbour resulting from the works. The order may also require the applicant to pay the neighbour compensation for being allowed access to their land.
Is there any other way in which access to neighbouring land can be lawfully obtained?
Sometimes the title documents (the deeds) to a property contain a right for a person to enter upon a neighbouring property for certain purposes, for example for the purpose of carrying out maintenance work.
In some circumstances it may be possible to show that such a right has been acquired in some other manner. For example, where a person has entered upon neighbouring land for 20 years or more in order to prune their hedge they may be able to show that they have acquired such as right by way of “prescription”. However, in order to establish a right by way of prescription it is necessary to show that entry upon the neighbouring land for the purpose of pruning the hedge was without force, secrecy or permission. If, therefore, the owner of the neighbouring land permitted access for this purpose, it will not be possible to acquire such a right.
Where a right arises in one of these ways if the neighbour obstructs access to their land it may be possible to obtain an injunction against them requiring them to remove the obstruction through the Civil Courts.