The High Hedges (Scotland) Act 2013 (the Act) provides a solution to the problem of high hedges where neighbours have not been able to resolve the issue amicably. It provides a means of resolving disputes over the effects of high hedges which interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of domestic property.
The Act is not designed to impact on woodlands and forests, which as a general rule are not planted as hedges.
The Scottish Government has published guidance to local authorities.
Below are some questions and answers outlining what the Act covers, and how it works.
What is a high hedge?
The Act defines a high hedge as one which:
- Is formed wholly or mainly by a row of 2 or more trees or shrubs.
- Rises to a height of more than 2m above ground level.
- 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 effect as a barrier at heights of more than 2m. The roots of a high hedge will not be taken into account.
What is a barrier to light?
The Act does not specify parameters for light levels. The decision as to whether, or not, a hedge is a barrier to light is a judgment to be made by the local authority in accordance with the circumstances of each case.
The Hedge Height & Light Loss guidelines developed by the Building Research Establishment are used in similar cases in England and Wales. North Ayrshire Council considers that the guidelines produce an accurate worst case scenario in light loss calculations and will employ this method in all cases of evergreen hedges (eg Leylandii) and where applicable in other cases.
Are all trees covered by the Act?
No. Single trees are not covered. The investigating officer will decide whether trees planted together form a hedge, or not.
North Ayrshire Council does not generally consider woodland fringes, tree-lined avenues, or other forms of structure planting to be hedges and these will not generally be covered by the Act.
The Act does not make it illegal to grow a hedge, nor is any prior consent or permission required to plant or grow a hedge. All types and species of hedge are covered by the Act.
A hedge must be over 2m tall before it can begin to be considered as a high hedge. Not all hedges over 2m can automatically be termed a high hedge – only where a complaint has been made and that complaint has been upheld by the council.
Does the Act cover issues like pine needles blocking drains, falling leaves and branches or root damage?
Do I need to do anything before I make an application to the Council?
Yes. The role of the council is as an impartial last resort where the parties concerned have been unable to resolve the matter amicably. Before making a complaint, you must be able to prove that you have tried to reach a solution with the hedge owner by alternative means – such as by mediation.
The council can refuse to consider applications which do not show sufficient reasonable attempts to resolve the dispute, or which are considered frivolous or vexatious. It will be expected that this evidence will include recent attempts at resolution and that the hedge owner has been made aware of a potential application for a High Hedge Notice.
I have been unable, to reach an agreement with my neighbour. What do I do?
You can make an application to the council. A fee of £382 is payable, at this point, by the person making the complaint. This is to ensure that the council can cover reasonable costs incurred in investigating the complaint.
How to Apply
Complete and return a High hedge notice application (Word, 68kb).
What happens after I've paid the fee and the application is lodged?
The Council will notify the hedge owner and any other relevant parties that a complaint has been made, and allow 28 days for comments to be made. The investigating officer will visit the property to assess the hedge, and its impact on the light levels to the complainant’s property.
Adverse impact on light to the applicant's residential property will be considered in conjunction with the comments of the hedge owner and any other material considerations to determine what, if any, action is required. Considerations will normally be a question of balancing the severity of the impact on the applicant's property against the amenity value to the hedge owner and wider area.
A copy of comments received from either party will be made available to the other. The investigating officer cannot act as a mediator. The applicant can withdraw their application at any time before the Council makes a decision on whether to issue a Notice or not. The Council will make a decision as soon as is reasonably practicable after the 28 days notification period has expired. Once the decision is made, both parties will be notified.
The Council has dismissed my request as the hedge is not a high hedge, what can I do?
There is no right of appeal where the Council does not register an application which does not come under the scope of the Act. You should refer to our complaints procedures if you are not satisfied with this.
The Council has determined that no High Hedge Notice is to be issued, but I disagree. What next?
As the applicant, if you disagree with the decision of the local authority that (a) there is no adverse effect, or (b) there is an adverse effect but no action is required, then you will have the right of appeal to Scottish Government ministers.
The Council has determined that a High Hedge Notice is to be issued. What happens next?
A High Hedge Notice will be issued detailing any immediate action and any future preventative measures required along with the relevant timescales involved. If the hedge owner fails to comply with the terms of the Notice, the Council can arrange for the work to be carried out and has the power to recover costs from the hedge owner.
The Council has determined that a High Hedge Notice is to be issued. Can I appeal?
Yes. Both sides have the right of appeal to Scottish Government ministers where a Notice is to be served. The applicant may appeal that the required works don't go far enough. The hedge owner can appeal that (a) no Notice should have been issued, (b) the required works go too far, or (c) that the council has not given them enough time to complete the required works. Both parties can only appeal once. An appeal will have the effect of 'suspending' the Notice until it has been decided.
Can a High Hedge Notice be varied or withdrawn?
Yes. The Act enables a local authority to vary or withdraw a notice if it deems it appropriate. A party can approach the authority at any time with details of a change in circumstances to request that the notice be varied. This may because of a change in the effect of the hedge on either party, or because both parties have agreed a solution which renders the Notice unnecessary. The council will notify all parties with reasons for the decision. Both main parties have a right of appeal against the variation or withdrawal.
All decisions made by the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, will be final.
Can the Act be reviewed?
Yes. The Act contains specific provisions to ensure that it will be reviewed within 5 years. This includes a review of the definitions, so that changes can be made if required.
The role of the council is as an impartial adjudicator. Advice can only be given on the application process.