How high is too high? The thorny issue of high hedges. Part Three of the problems with trees that you need to know.

It has been a long winter and the sun is creeping up for the first day of summer. You dig out your sun lounger from the garden shed, put it in your usual spot but wait. You find that instead of basking in the Scottish ‘summer’, you are in fact stuck in the shade. Has your neighbour’s hedge always been so high?

With most neighbour disputes, the first thing you should do is speak to your neighbour directly. This will usually solve any issues you have, and they will be out with the shears allowing you to bask once more. But what does the law provide you with if they sit back and do nothing?

The High Hedges (Scotland) Act 2013 is the legislation which governs the issue of high hedges blocking out sunlight. The local authority can step in when neighbours cannot come to a resolution and they have the power to issue a high hedge notice which requires the owner of the high hedge to cut it back. It is worth mentioning that this only applies to the hedge height and not the roots (which can be dealt with in other ways).

So how do you ask the local authority to step in? First of all, how high is too high? The Act defines a high hedge as one which (1) is formed wholly or mainly by a row of 2 or more trees or shrubs, (2) rises to a height of more than 2 metres above ground level, and (3) forms a barrier to light. If you want to measure the hedge, bear in mind that it must be done from your side of the fence to avoid any further neighbour troubles. If the hedge does not fit this criteria (i.e. is a single tree rather than a hedge), the local authority will not be able to become involved. However if the issue is regarding branches overhanging into your garden, we have some advice on that in Part 2 of our series.

You will have to provide evidence that you have tried to resolve the problem directly with your neighbour. It is best to have this in writing i.e. emails or letters. There will also (as usual) be a fee for applying for a high hedge notice, so it is best to check the local authority website beforehand.

Okay, so this hedge meets the criteria and I have tried my best with my neighbour but still nothing has changed, what happens next? The local authority will then assess the application and make their decision. If the application is rejected, there is no provision for an appeal in the Act however, you can apply for a review on how the local authority has come to the decision by judicial review, or you can contact the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

If your application is accepted, the local authority will then investigate the issue and make a decision on whether or not to take action by issuing a high hedge notice. If issued, these notices must be complied with by a specific date and is binding on the current owner and future owners (until complied with). If this is ignored, the local authority can employ an authorised person to take action and trim the hedge. The bill for this is then sent to the high hedge owner and once paid, a discharge is granted. If you are the subject of a high hedge notice, there is an appeal process which you can follow if you disagree with the outcome.

The hedge has now been cut back down to size and your sunbathing spot is free. Finally, you will once again be able to enjoy Scottish ‘summertime’ without your neighbour’s hedge blocking your light. The MMi golden rule this week is (1) keep on top of your hedges, (2) resolve any issues directly with your neighbours if possible and (3) if in doubt get the measuring tape out!