From the 1st June 2005 the Council has been given new powers to deal with nuisance high hedges under a provision of the Anti Social Behaviour Act 2003.
The legislation allows people to lodge a complaint with their local authority about a particular hedge, based on the adverse affects brought on by its height. It is our role to then assess the points raised in the complaint, and decide whether they are sufficient to warrant a reduction in height of the hedge. Calculations on the amount of light obstructed by the hedge are also taken into account. Epping Forest have appointed an officer within planning services to process these complaints.
Some important points you should note if you are considering making a complaint are:
• The law only applies to evergreen or semi-evergreen hedges more than two metres high.
• We can only deal with a complaint if the person affected has taken steps to settle the dispute themselves before making a formal complaint to the Council. This normally means making a written approach;
• You will have to pay a fee to the Council to have a formal complaint considered. This will normally be non-refundable even if your complaint is upheld. The fee payable is £500 for an initial complaint and £200 for repeat complaints.
If you are in any doubt about these criteria it's best to study one of the guidance documents or contact us for more details.
Of course, we are only able to act within the constraints of the legislation. Therefore, it may not be possible for us to look at all high hedges or trees that are causing problems: only the ones covered by this law. This is not to say your problem is not serious - merely that it may not be something that falls within this legislation.
What to do if you are affected by a hedge which you think is too high
• It is best to try and resolve the matter directly with your neighbour. Advice on how you can do this is set out in the government leaflet 'Over the garden hedge'. Please note that we do not automatically accept a formal complaint under this legislation. You need to show that you have made a reasonable effort to resolve the issue directly with your neighbour. This should include writing to your neighbour. Even if you have done this already, it may be sensible to try again now, as hedge-owners may be aware of the new laws and therefore be more likely to act to eliminate problems.
Another option is to consider formal mediation to try and resolve the problem. The Civil Mediation Council can help you. This is not something which is required by EFDC, although you may find it a useful step.
• Make sure that the hedge falls into the definitions set out in the regulations and guidance. Chapter 4 of the government document 'High Hedge Complaints - Prevention and Cure' sets out these guidelines in detail. In situations where there is doubt about the interpretation of the regulations, you may like to send us photographs of the hedge. In most cases we should be able to tell you if it fulfils the relevant criteria.
• Any complaint you make will be assessed according to the level of impact the hedge is having on the enjoyment of your property. One of the main problems is likely to be the amount of light blocked by the hedge. The government booklet 'Hedge Height and Light Loss' explains calculation methods for establishing whether high hedges block too much daylight and sunlight to adjoining properties, and provides guidance on hedge heights to alleviate these problems. This document introduces a concept called 'action hedge height', (the maximum height of the hedge before too much light is blocked). If the hedge you are concerned about is lower than the action hedge height, it is unlikely that we will be able to uphold any complaint you make. Please note that action hedge height is dependent on garden size, distance of windows and several other factors, so it can vary considerably for each hedge.
These calculations do not produce a definitive answer as other factors need to be considered, but they will give you an indication before you decide on whether to complain formally. Other considerations include the contribution the hedge makes to the amenity of the area as a whole and the effect of the potential height reduction on the amenities of the owner. For further information on other considerations see Chapter 5 of High Hedges Complaints: - Prevention and Cure.
Once you have looked at the information set out above, and you are confident that:
1. the hedge falls within the regulations;
2. you believe its height has an adverse affect on the reasonable enjoyment of your domestic property;
3. you have made a reasonable attempt to resolve the situation with the hedge owner;
you can submit a formal complaint. Please contact the Trees and Landscape team who will send you a copy of the official complaint form and relevant guidance notes. When submitting your complaint please include a plan of your property showing the hedge; photographs; evidence of attempts to resolve the problem; and the required fee (£500 for initial complaints and £200 for repeat complaints).
The first thing we will do is to check the complaint is valid and that all the appropriate information is provided. Please read the guidance notes carefully on how to fill in the complaint form and what needs to accompany it. Once we have checked that we have all the information we need, we will acknowledge receipt of the completed complaint form. However if the complaint is invalid we will return the documents and fee and explain the reasons for this.
The next step is to notify the hedge owner of the complaint and arrange to visit the site to view it from both sides. We will identify the species in the hedge and make an assessment of the possible impact of reducing it to various different heights. Any remedial action we decide to take cannot have the effect of killing the hedge. We will make various measurements in order to obtain the information needed to make the calculations set out in the 'Hedge height and light loss' document.
Other issues which are relevant to the decision on the complaint include:
• Other problems experienced by the complainant as a result of the height of the hedge.
• The amenity of the hedge owners.
• The impact the hedge has on the amenity of the wider neighbourhood.
We will also consider any written representations on these issues submitted by any of the parties. When all of the information has been obtained we will prepare a report that deals with all of the relevant factors and determines whether the complaint should be upheld. Once the decision is made, both the complainant and the hedge owner will be notified and sent a copy of the officer's report which explains the criteria on which the decision was reached. The length of the process varies from case to case. There is no prescribed timescale, but experience suggests it takes around 12 weeks from application to final decision. The length of time depends on the complexity of the case; and how many people or properties it affects.
After the Decision is Made
If we uphold the complaint, in the majority of cases this will be followed by the service of a 'remedial notice' on the hedge owner. This is a legal document which will explain what action must be taken in relation to the hedge in order to remedy the adverse effect and, if necessary, to prevent it recurring. It will also specify the date when these works should be carried out. The hedge owner can appeal against the service of a 'remedial notice' within 28 days of receiving it. Under certain circumstances the complainant can also appeal if they feel that the remedial notice does not go far enough.
If we reject the complaint, or uphold it, but decide not to serve a remedial notice, the complainant has a right of appeal. All appeals are to the Secretary of State, but are handled by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) on his behalf. For further details of the appeals system please ask for a separate leaflet 'High Hedges - appealing against the Council's decision'.
If, once a remedial notice has been confirmed, or the works required are not done by the specified date, we have enforcement powers.
These take two forms:
1. to prosecute the person responsible for the hedge in the Magistrates Court, or;
2. for the Council to carry out the specified works and to recover its costs from the person responsible for the hedge.
Which course of action we would take will depend upon the particulars of each case.
Further Information on High Hedges