High hedges can be a nuisance to neighbouring land, particularly when they grow to the extent of blocking light from a property. Where a hedge becomes more than simply a boundary and becomes a problem, you can make a formal complaint to your local council.
Before making a formal complaint, you should try to resolve the issue with the owner of the hedge. In many cases, the owner will not know it causing a problem until it is brought to their attention. In any case, the council will not take any action unless you have tried to resolve the issue with the owner first.
How should I approach my neighbour?
Have a gentle talk with your neighbour, or write a letter to them, setting out the issue and asking them to remedy it.
If initial attempts to resolve the situation are unproductive, ask your neighbour if they will see independent mediators with you to try to resolve it. This will demonstrate to the council in the event of any future claim that you have done what is reasonable in trying to resolve the matter without formal action.
If the hedge owner is not willing to do anything about the hedge, tell them of your intentions to make a formal complaint – and keep written records of your discussions with your neighbour. If you have not already done so, write a letter to your neighbour. Keep a diary of events if necessary. These records will be important when making your complaint and communicating with your local authority.
Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003
Local authorities have various powers under Part 8 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. In deciding whether to take action, the council will need to be satisfied you have done all that is reasonably possible to resolve the matter with your neighbour.
How do I make a complaint to the council?
You will need to complete a form which is available from your local authority, and also downable from its website. You will have to explain your attempts to resolve the situation in person with your neighbour.
Your council will want to know if the hedge (or the portion causing you problems) is made up of a line of at least two trees or shrubs, and is more than two metres tall (from ground level); and whether it is mostly evergreen or semi-evergreen.
They will also want to know whether the hedge is capable of obstructing light or views even if there are any gaps in the foliage or between the trees or shrubs. If there are gaps, for instance, the circumstances may not meet the criteria for action to be taken.
If you meet the criteria, the council will contact your neighbour and invite them to discuss the matter and set out their own case. A council officer will also investigate the hedge and surrounding area themselves including, for instance, looking at your garden in the context of the hedge in question.
When the council has sufficient information, it will weight up all the facts, and what you and your neighbour say, and decide whether or not the hedge is causing a negative impact on your enjoyment of your garden and property. Note that this process can take at least three months, so patience is needed.
If the council decides not to uphold your complaint, you will have a right of appeal to the independent Planning Inspectorate. However, an appeal must be lodged within 28 days of the date of the decision letter sent to you by your council.
What happens if the council agrees with me?
The council will write to your neighbour requiring remedial action within a certain timescale. This may mean reducing the height of the hedge, or trimming it to a certain level and maintaining it at that level.
Also note that the council cannot order the hedge to be completely removed. In addition, do not be tempted to cut or trim the hedge yourself (unless any overhangs your own land) because you could be committing an offence.
How much will it cost to complain to the council?
Fees vary between local authorities, and can be substantial – typically varying between £300 and £600. The fee helps encourage people to try to settle disputes between themselves, and helps deter vexatious complaints.
What if my neighbour fails to comply with the remedial notice?
Failure to comply with a remedial notice is a criminal offence and your neighbour may be liable to prosecution. On conviction, a fine of up to £1,000 can be imposed. The council can also choose to carry out the remedial work itself, but it is not obliged to do so.