Careless pruning could amount to anti-social behaviour

Legislation to take the heat out of neighbours’ feuding over the notoriously fast-growing Leylandii hedges was promised last week, in a surprise announcement under the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill.

Labour MP Stephen Pound introduced a High Hedges Bill earlier in the year but its progress was blocked in the House of Commons despite widespread support. Under the proposals, a ‘high hedge’ was defined as a line of two or more evergreens two or more metres above the ground and there were provisions to allow local authorities to arbitrate disputes. The bill was blocked but the Government announced last week that it intends to put the legislation through Parliament under the umbrella of its Anti-Social Behaviour Bill.

According to John Hornby, a partner in Macfarlanes‘ property department, the “speed of growth of Leylandii” is “matched only by the contemporaneous rise in suburban blood pressure”. The campaigning group Hedgeline is aware of 10,000 hedge feuds being waged. Earlier in the year George Wilson was shot dead by his neighbour Robert Dickenson on an estate in Lincoln after Mr Wilson confronted him on finding his hedge severely cut back. The tragedy was compounded when Mr Dickenson, after being charged with murder, hung himself while on remand.

“There is no current protection for people if they find their neighbour has planted very high hedges or trees next to them, rendering their garden devoid of light and possibly infertile at the roots of the trees,” Hornby said. The only possible redress relates to the protection of light in your own home as opposed to your garden. In common law there is no right to light. “You can only maintain a right to light if you can establish that a nuisance has arisen and you have to demonstrate that there has been a diminution of your light which makes your building less well lit to a material degree than it was before the nuisance arose,” he said. It is unlikely that any new legislation would have prevented the sad events in Lincoln, as the hedge in question was barely 12 inches high.