Minister backs campaign to cut 'anti-social' hedges down to size

COMING soon to a street near you: hedge police.

A plan to force homeowners to cut back their plants if they are ruining their neighbours' gardens has won support from senior Scottish ministers.

The move, contained in a consultation into the impact of high hedges, could see a body set up to investigate cases of householders ignoring the impact of their plants.

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If they were found guilty of anti-social behaviour, the authorities would then be able to march on to their land to cut hedges down to size.

The idea is being backed by Finance Secretary John Swinney, the MSP for North Tayside, whose caseload has contained numerous complaints from constituents on the issue.

Swinney has called for an independent body to be set up to police hedge disputes. This could bring to an end a ten-year campaign for legislation from neighbourhood groups, which argue the current lack of legislation means households are powerless to deal with unruly neighbours.

Most disputes involve cases in which householders have allowed hedges – commonly the Leylandii – to grow to enormous heights, blocking out light in their neighbours' property.

In several cases, disputes have ended in violence, or families moving house.

In England, new laws have recently come in to decide on neighbourhood disputes, and now is looks certain that Scotland is to follow suit.

The campaign for a law is being led by Lord McGhee, chairman of the Scottish Land Court, who argues that the threat of legal action will resolve most neighbourhood arguments.

He said: "When people cannot go to law they tend to get angry. If you have a right to ask a neighbour to cut down his hedge or tree, both parties are more likely to approach the problem as one to be solved rather than one to be fought over."

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Swinney says in his own reply to the consultation that such action is necessary, adding: "If an organisation was given authority over high hedges, many confrontations could be avoided. This body should be empowered to order the removal and trimming of hedges and trees."

Several campaign groups, including ScotHedge, are also demanding reform. The Cowal Group against anti-social behaviour argued: "One cannot construct a 30 foot wall without planning consent. Why should you be allowed to block light by growing a 30 foot hedge?"

Campaigners say that local authorities or national parks should be given the power to prosecute those who ignore the law on hedge or tree levels.

Lord McGhee's proposals are also supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland. In total, a consultation on the proposals received more than 600 responses from members of the public and organisations.

The main culprit in many of the disputes is the Leylandii, which can grow at the rate of one metre a year, reaching a height of 30 metres if left untrimmed.

There is currently no legislation on what constitutes a "high hedge" and growing one on one's own property is not unlawful. In England, an "anti-social" hedge has been defined as being more than two metres in height and which acted as "a barrier to light or access".

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Ministers received more than 600 responses to the consultation on high hedges and those responses are being analysed externally.

"We expect to receive that analysis next spring and ministers will announce their intentions in the light of that."