MSPs back bill to let councils cut nuisance hedges

A NEW law allowing council workers to enter a property and chop down “nuisance” hedges was passed by the Scottish Parliament yesterday.

The Member’s Bill is now waiting for Royal Assent. It was introduced by Nationalist MSP Mark McDonald in an attempt to resolve disputes between neighbours over the height of garden hedges.

The High Hedges (Scotland) Bill will cover deciduous and evergreen hedges that grow to beyond 6ft.

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Campaigners point to fast-growing species such as leylandii, which sprout by 3ft a year and can rise to around 100ft. Scotland does not have specific legislation, but similar laws have already been adopted in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Under the terms of the planned legislation, residents can complain to councils that hedges on neighbouring land have an “adverse effect on the reasonable enjoyment of domestic property”.

It is hoped the legislation will help break the deadlock in disputes between neighbours over the impact of hedges on their rights to privacy and the level of sunlight coming into their gardens.

Local authorities would act as mediators and issue enforcement notice to hedge owners, demanding they take appropriate action – if their hedge is defined as a high hedge by the bill.

But if the owner fails to comply, the bill would give councils the power to go in and do the work. They would also be able to present the non-compliant householder with an invoice to recover costs.

Both the complainant and hedge owner will have the right of appeal. As the bill awaits Royal Assent, discussions will be held to inform guidance that will be drawn up for local authorities on how the bill will operate. It is anticipated the bill will come into force in the first half of 2014.

The bill was unanimously passed by MSPs.

Mr McDonald said: “It has become clear to me that there are a number of apparently intractable disputes across Scotland that revolve around the presence of a high hedge, with no easy resolution in sight and no apparent willingness to resolve matters amicably between neighbours.

“In my view, this bill was the best way to achieve a practical and sustainable resolution to this long-standing problem.”

The bill would allow people to apply to their local authority for a high hedge notice. Local authorities will then be able to make and enforce decisions after taking account of all views, he said.

Local government minister Derek Mackay said: “The movernment has supported the bill consistently during its progress in parliament. I hope that members will agree that we have before us a well thought-out bill that will address the problems across Scotland.”

Labour’s Sarah Boyack also backed the bill. Giving local authority powers to settle disputes “is a very welcome step forward”, she said.

Conservative planning spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said her party would have liked the review period of the legislation to be reduced from a possible six-and-a-half years to a maximum of three years.

“This would have been preferable given the anxiety this issue can cause,” she said.