Continuing on from the theme of my previous articles in the Folio, I have noted with some interest the long gestation period before the passing of the High Hedges Act (NI) 2011 (“the 2011 Act”).
This has been a topic that has appeared regularly in the press and nationwide news programmes throughout the last few of years.
Most press stories run with the angle that the unreasonable neighbour has allowed their hedge to grow to an excessive height which blocks out the light to the adjoining property.
My initial response was that legislation to restrict such incidents is required and commendable.
Prior to the legislation being introduced I had a couple of frustrated clients who did not have the appropriate legal vehicle to use to persuade their adjoining neighbours to reduce the height of their hedge or tree. In one particular case we were able to resolve the matter as the roots of the hedge caused physical damage to our client’s driveway, and therefore there was a direct nuisance to our client’s property.
Similar to other recently introduced legislation the 2011 Act empowers local councils to enforce the Act. The powers of local authorities now extend to private tenancies and the issuing of certificates of fitness and also dealing with disputes regarding high hedges.
The 2011 Act itself is relatively straightforward and there are excellent guidance notes for hedge owners which are written in plain English and would help members of the public in deciding whether or not they had a relevant case.
The guidance and legislation is designed to encourage mediation between neighbours in the hope that relationships can be protected for the future well-being of the neighbourhood.
Therefore on reading the documentation it is difficult to see a down side to the legislation which was needed to redress the balance in favour of the sensible house owner, who managed and maintained their hedges to a reasonable height.
It took some time for me to be instructed in my first case under the new legislation. The client was well informed and had studied thoroughly not only the contents of the 2011 Act but also the guidance notes for hedge owners. He came across from the outset as an expert in the area. As our first meeting unfolded it became evident that our client, who was the owner of the high hedge, felt very strongly that he was a victim and the legislation had been used to intimidate him in what was clearly a neighbour dispute. There had been a feud between my client and a number of adjoining neighbours. The adjoining neighbours were using the legislation as a means to point score against the client. The mediation was a sham as the parties were so entrenched it was quite clear from the outset that the matter would end up with the local council to resolve. It has not been resolved but it did strike me that the legislation could be used maliciously by a difficult neighbour in circumstances that were not particularly fair. Thankfully the legislation does appear to restrict those that can instigate a complaint to being either adjoining or within a close proximity to the property upon which the high hedge is located.
If you have a hedge that is causing issues for you let me know.