Disputes about high hedges are fairly rare, but when they happen they can spiral out of control and be a source of great concern for those involved. Unlike boundary fences or walls, which need planning permission if they are more than two metres high, there is no such restriction when planting trees or shrubs to form a hedge, even though they can grow higher than two metres. So, it is not surprising that problems can arise with hedges if they are planted in unsuitable places or are not maintained properly.
In 2009 a Scottish Government consultation asked whether disputes such as those over high hedges were a matter for the Government to get involved in, or best left for individuals to sort out themselves. Of those who responded to that question, 95% believed that the Government should take action. The Scottish Government supported Mark McDonald MSP to bring a High Hedges Bill before Parliament, and officials and Mr McDonald consulted with a broad range of people and organisations with an interest in hedges as the Bill passed through the Scottish Parliament. The High Hedges (Scotland) Act 2013 was given Royal Assent (approval) on 2 May 2013 and I congratulate Mark McDonald for all of his work to make this happen.
The aim of the Act is to provide a solution to the problem of high hedges if they interfere with people's right to 'reasonable enjoyment' of their house or flat, and gardens if this applies, and if neighbours have not been able to resolve the issue amicably. It does this by giving homeowners and occupiers the right to apply to a local authority for a high hedge notice and gives local authorities the power to make and enforce decisions relating to high hedges in their local area.
In dealing with applications, local authorities should act as independent and impartial adjudicators and aim to strike a balance between the competing rights of neighbours to enjoy their house and the rights of the community in general. Local authorities need to make the decisions on what action should be taken, because individual circumstances will differ and any action needed to settle the dispute should take account of the facts and circumstances of each case.
I hope that this Act will provide a solution to many of the long-standing disputes between neighbours over high hedges. This will help to improve people's lives and help them enjoy their house in an amicable way and make sure that we live in communities where we promote positive behaviour and good neighbour relations.
Derek Mackay MSP
Minister for Local Government and Planning