Thorny problem but high-hedges law will only cover evergreens

Dr Colin Watson: Called for the Bill to include deciduous trees. Picture: Jane Barlow
Dr Colin Watson: Called for the Bill to include deciduous trees. Picture: Jane Barlow
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CALLS to widen a proposed law to tackle disputes caused by high hedges are not necessary, according to the Scottish Government’s planning minister.

Restricting the draft legislation to evergreens, rather than adding single or deciduous trees, is a good starting point, Derek Mackay said.

Anyone setting out to grow trees specifically to cause a nuisance to neighbours would be displaying a particularly long-term plan for “warfare”, the minister told Holyrood’s local government committee as he defended the bill from SNP MSP Mark McDonald.

The proposed law change would mean that the owners of any hedge that “exceeds two metres in height and which forms a barrier to light” could be served with a “high hedge notice” ordering them to cutback the shrub.

Councils would also be handed the power to trim nuisance hedges and charge residents who have refused to do the work themselves for any costs incurred.

However, a campaigner against high hedges warned that unless the law was tightened to include deciduous trees, anti-social neighbours could replace overgrown evergreens with other large plants. Dr Colin Watson, who was forced to live with a dozen 30ft conifers overlooking his Edinburgh home for three years, said: “At the moment, there is no real right of redress.

“But if we don’t widen it to include deciduous trees, it would be very easy for somebody to chop down their evergreen and replace it with a deciduous tree.”

The 76-year-old retired scientist said almost one in five of the 3,000 to 4,000 complaints that he claimed there were in Scotland every year over nuisance plants involved deciduous trees.

Scotland is not covered by specific laws on nuisance plants in this area. The High Hedges Bill was lodged by Mr McDonald at the Scottish Parliament in October, ten years after action was first suggested by former Labour MSP Scott Barrie.

Mr Mackay said the terms of the bill could be changed or looked at again if people wanted, but claimed that the current could act as a suitable deterrent to anti-social behaviour.

He said: “It is somewhat of a long-term strategy to plant a single tree to get you in a position where it’s warfare with your neighbour,” he said.

“I’m not undermining the issue, but I’m saying it’s something of a long-term strategy to do that.

“We’re talking about existing trees that would happen to be there but for the hedges, for the evergreens, semi or wholly evergreens – all those definitions – our view is that it would capture much of the behaviour that’s causing so much angst across Scotland.”

SNP MSP Mr McDonald, speaking to Holyrood’s local government committee, conceded the definition was narrow, but insisted that widening the terms would risk making the bill too complex.

However, Dr Watson warned: “The general concept of only looking at evergreen trees is far too restrictive.

“Mr McDonald’s bill only includes evergreen or semi-evergreens and it wouldn’t stop deciduous trees being a barrier outside people’s homes.”

Tory MSP Alex Johnstone backed the call to tighten up the High Hedges Bill, which could become law as early as this spring.