High hedge bill gets cross party backing from MSPs

Dr Colin Watson and Derek Park from the campaign group Scothedge. Picture: Jane Barlow
Dr Colin Watson and Derek Park from the campaign group Scothedge. Picture: Jane Barlow
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A MOVE to hand councils powers to hack back overgrown hedges and charge the owner for the work passed a key stage at Holyrood as the proposed law change won cross party backing.

The High Hedges bill would mean that the owners of a shrub that “exceeds two metres in height and which forms a barrier to light” could be served with a “notice ordering them to cut back the growth.

Scotland is the only part of the UK not covered by specific legislation on high hedges, with a previous attempt to change the law by former Labour MSP Scott Barrie failing 10 years ago.

However, the new bill from SNP MSP Mark McDonald would allow councils to trim nuisance hedges and charge residents who have refused to do the work themselves for any costs incurred.

Campaigners say that thousands of Scots are affected by high hedges and plants that can block light and diminish the value of residential properties.

SNP MSP Graeme Dey insisted that the measures, which have government backing, would deal with the “selfishness” of nuisance hedge owners as well as giving “deserved respite” to the victims of overgrown evergreens.

Scotland’s local government minister Derek Mackay insisted that the law change was not “about income generation for councils but about allowing for an “early resolution” of disputes over high hedges.

He said: “We recognise that Scotland is the only part of the UK without legislation to deal with the problem of the height of a hedge.

“This presents us with the opportunity to learn from elsewhere, and this Bill learns from the experience of others.”

The proposed law change won unanimous backing at Holyrood as MSPs approved stage one of the bill with the support of all parties.

SNP MSP Mr McDonald claimed that there was no existing remedies for the victims of hedge bullies as he defended the bill, which will now come before Holyrood’s committee system next month.

He said: “I’m not seeking to create disputes where none exist, but I am looking to resolve existing disputes.

“It is clear that there are a number of intractable disputes that resolve around the existence of a high hedge.

“The problem that exists is that there is presently no way to resolve these disputes if there is an unwillingness to resolve them amicably, and I have thought to provide a mechanism to remedy this by introducing this legislation.”

The cross party backing for a law to curb high hedges was welcomed by campaigners who sat through the Holyrood debate on the bill yesterday.

Dr Colin Watson, who was forced to live with a dozen 30ft conifers overlooking his Edinburgh home for three years, said that the bill would help deal with up to half of the 3,000 cases of overgrown hedges he claimed existed in Scotland.

He said: “Obviously we’d like the scope of the bill to be widened, but its a huge step in the right direction.

“It’s a tremendous start to changing the law and improving the situation for people affected by high hedges.”

Donald Cargill, who said his neighbour in Glasgow grew a 50ft tree next to his own property, said: “It’s taken a long time to get to this stage, but it will make things a lot better. Hopefully the parliament will move quite fast on things now.”

Meanwhile, SNP MSP Dey, welcoming the bill, said he had experience of a “nearly high hedge” on the boundary with a former neighbour.

He told MSPs his problem was more to do with hedge thickness, adding: “Getting in and out of the passenger side of the vehicles parked in the driveway became a problem owing to an at-times 18-inch incursion to the property.”

The Bill is a good use of parliamentary time, he said.

“This Bill will allow people whose quality of life has been impacted upon through the selfishness of others some deserved respite.”

Labour local government spokeswoman Sarah Boyack called on MSPs to ensure that property owners are properly protected from high hedges when the bill is expected to win final approval later this year.

She said: “This Bill has been a long time coming, and it’s crucial that we get it right.

“It builds on the previous work and discussions by Scott Barrie with his two goes at getting a Member’s Bill through, so I very much welcome the fact that Mark McDonald has picked up this issue for his Bill.”