The definition of a hedge is 'a line of two or more evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs of more than two metres in height, or a hedgerow that is predominantly evergreen'. These include cypresses such as leylandii, and other conifers such as yew, laurel, and box. Individual trees and shrubs are not included, and are outside the scope of the legislation.
If your home is adversely affected by a high hedge, you can make a complaint to Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) under part 8 of the Anti-social behaviour Act 2003.
High Hedge Disputes
If you are the owner or occupier of an affected 'residential' property, you can bring a complaint about a high hedge to MVDC, provided you have taken all reasonable steps to try to resolve the matter with your neighbour first, especially within the three months before involving the MVDC. If the neighbour is unwilling to talk to you or you are nervous about speaking to them, it is recommended to send a polite letter. Keep a record of the steps you take, for example, copies of letters or a diary. If this fails, you should invite them to talk to independent mediators who can help you to find a way forward. For more information, visit the Mid-Surrey Mediation Service website (see 'Internet links'). Further information on settling your dispute can be found in the leaflet Over the garden hedge (see 'Internet links').
Procedure for dealing with hedge disputes
If an agreement cannot be reached, you should let your neighbour know that you will be making a formal complaint to MVDC. More information about the process can be found in the leaflet 'High hedges: Complaining to the Council' (see 'Internet links'). Please note, the involvement of MVDC at this stage will incur a fee (details below). If MVDC cannot proceed with the complaint, the reason/s will be explained and the fee refunded.
In determining complaints, MVDC will gather information from the complainant and the hedge owner, and a site visit will be carried out. Blocking of light will be the most significant factor in deciding high hedge complaints. An assessment and calculations will be made to work out an Action Hedge Height (see 'Internet links'). This will not necessarily be the final hedge height, as other factors will need to be taken into account, including: privacy, screening, blocking of views and the potential value of hedges as wind breaks. Problems relating to root activity (e.g. subsidence, roots taking moisture from the soil and affecting other plants and blocking of drains) are specifically excluded from this legislation and will not be considered by MVDC. A complaint may take at least 12 weeks to investigate, but there is no specific time limit in which MVDC must reach a decision.
The height to which it will be appropriate to reduce a specific hedge will depend on the circumstances of each case, and MVDC does not have powers to require that hedges be reduced to less than 2 meters in height.. The method of calculating the minimum hedge height can be viewed by using the High Hedge Calculator (see 'Internet links').
If considered appropriate, MVDC may issue a remedial notice that will require works on problem hedges. The notice may also require that hedges be maintained at a reasonable height in the future. The notice becomes a 'charge' on the property, and legal obligations under such a notice pass to any subsequent owners. The time limit for carrying out the works will be given in the notice, and will be reasonable in terms of giving the hedge owner the opportunity to enlist the services of a contractor, if necessary, and make arrangements for the works to be carried out. Care must also be taken to protect nesting birds if cutting a hedge between March and August to avoid contravening wildlife protection legislation.
Appeals against a decision
The owner has a right of appeal against a remedial notice, which has to be made within 28 days of the notice being served. Appeals are dealt with independently by the Planning Inspectorate on behalf of the Secretary of State. Similarly, the complainant may appeal if MVDC decides not to issue a remedial notice, or if it issues and then subsequently withdraws a notice. Either party may appeal against the terms of a remedial notice on the grounds that it either goes too far or does not go far enough.
MVDC has the power to take enforcement action if the terms of a remedial notice are not complied with and failure to comply can incur a fine up to £1000 in a magistrates court. Further fines could be incurred if compliance is not forthcoming after the first court appearance. MVDC also has powers to enter land and carry out works required by a remedial notice, and recover its expenses in so doing from the hedge owner.
The current fee (2014/15) charged by MVDC to investigate your complaint is £610.