New laws to tackle high hedges in Scotland could be introduced after MSPs were told that they can make people’s lives a misery.
Campaigners claimed there are about 5,000 problem hedges in Scotland, during evidence to Holyrood’s local government committee yesterday.
Residents will be able to apply to councils for a high-hedge notice if one of their neighbours has a hedge more than two metres in height and which blocks out light, if plans going through Parliament are passed.
Derek Park, of pressure group Scothedge, told MSPs: “We’re not talking about busybodies saying, ‘There’s a 6ft tree there.’
“We’re talking about a complaints-based system when the people who complain are often old, bullied, infirm, disabled, low-income people whose life, frankly, is being made an absolute misery by vegetation.”
Examples include the owner of a home whose neighbour is growing a hedge intended to block solar panels, the committee was told. Hedges are also used as a kind of “weapon” in neighbourhood battles caused by planning disputes, particularly over house extensions.
Scotland is not covered by specific legislation in this area, while laws have been adopted in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.
The High Hedges Bill was lodged by SNP MSP Mark McDonald at the Scottish Parliament in October, ten years after action was first suggested by former Labour MSP Scott Barrie.
The Bill proposes a definition of a high hedge at two metres, formed by a row or two of evergreens, such as the fast-growing leylandii, which forms a barrier to light.
And although there are thousands of cases in Scotland at the moment, most of these are expected to disappear when the legislation comes into effect, according to Mr Park.
“The cases will dissolve. People will start to do the right thing,” he said. “If you make a 30mph limit, people obey the limit. You don’t need to put a policeman with a speed gun at the entrance to every village.”
But MSPs also heard from wildlife experts who cautioned against unintended consequences, such as the removal of protected or “heritage” trees.
There are currently no statutory controls over hedges in Scotland, but remedies can be found via common law which covers encroachment into land owned by another person, nuisance or conditions in title deeds. Mediation has also been used as an alternative to legal action.
But the new laws will allow homeowners and occupiers affected by a high hedge to make a complaint to the local council through an application for a high-hedge notice. This will include information about the impact of the hedge on the property of the person making the complaint.
Councils will be able to charge for these notices and the legislation sets out potential costs of up to £500, although this could vary from council to council.