The bill was passed on 28th March and is now awaiting Royal Assent. The process of drawing up guidance has begun but is expected to take some months to complete. It is anticipated that the bill will come into force at the beginning of April 2014. The guidance will set out guidelines on making a complaint and also on the criteria that councils will be using to adjudicate on complaints to ensure that the process is transparent.
What is a hedge?
The bill defines a hedge as ‘…two or more trees or shrubs planted closely together’
Will all trees be covered by the bill?
No. Single trees will not be covered, and it will be for the investigating tree officer to decide whether trees planted closely together form a hedge, or not.
I’ve heard that only hedges made up of certain types of trees will be covered, is this true?
No. All types of hedge – whether they be made up of evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous trees – will be covered by the bill. However, the hedge must be over 2 metres tall before it can begin to be considered a high hedge – but not all hedges over 2 metres will automatically be termed a ‘high hedge’ – only if a complaint is made and that complaint is upheld by the council.
Do I need to do anything before I make a complaint to the council?
Yes. Before making a complaint, you must be able to demonstrate to the local authority that you have tried to reach a solution with the hedge owner by alternative means – such as by mediation.
I have tried to reach an agreement with my neighbour, but haven’t been able to. What do I do next?
If you’ve been unable to reach an agreement over the hedge, at that point you will be able to raise a complaint with the local authority. A fee will be payable at this point by the person making the complaint. This is in order to ensure that councils can cover the costs of investigating the complaint. It will be for councils to decide how the fee structure will operate, including whether or not refunds will be offered to complainants where the complaint is successful. This also includes whether or not to offer any discount to those receiving benefits or pensions.
What happens after I’ve paid the fee and the complaint is lodged?
The local authority will notify the hedge owner that a complaint has been made, and then someone from the local authority will go out to the property to assess the hedge, and its impact on the light levels of the complainant’s property.
Once they have made a decision, they will notify both parties of their decision.
The local authority has said that the hedge is not a high hedge, but I disagree. What can I do next?
If you disagree with the decision of the local authority, you will have the right of appeal to Scottish Government ministers.
The local authority has determined that the hedge is a high hedge. What happens next?
The local authority will communicate their decision to both parties, and the hedge owner will be given a deadline by which to meet the terms of the high hedge notice. If they fail to take the remedial action on the hedge in that time, the local authority will arrange for the work to be carried out. The council will have the power to recover the cost of any work carried out from the hedge owner.
I am the hedge owner. The council have said my hedge needs to be cut back but I disagree - can I appeal?
Yes. Both sides have the same right of appeal to Scottish Government ministers. Both parties can only appeal once.
I live in a property which suffers from lack of light due to a high hedge, but the hedge is not on land immediately adjoining my property. Can I still make a complaint?
Yes. The hedge does not have to be on land immediately neighbouring the property of the person making the complaint. It just needs to be a significant barrier to light.
Does the bill cover issues such as problems caused by pine needles blocking trains, leaf fall and root damage?
No. Where plant life is causing damage to a property, there are existing civil methods which exist to address these issues. This bill is designed to deal with the problems resulting specifically from hedges creating a significant barrier to light.
I have a hedge on my property which might be considered a ‘high hedge’ but my neighbours have never complained about it – will I have to cut back the hedge?
No. The bill only applies where a complaint has been made. If a neighbour has not complained – even if the hedge is well over the 2 metres mentioned in the bill – no action will be required.
Will the bill be reviewed?
Yes. The bill contains specific statutes to ensure that it will be reviewed within five years. This includes a review of the definition, so that changes can be made if required.
You can read the bill, as it was passed by the Scottish Parliament, below:
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The bill pages on the Scottish Parliament website show all the documents relating to the bill, and contain more information and links to the transcripts of the Parliament. You can access transcripts of the evidence given to the Local Government and Regeneration Committee here
The transcript for the Finance Committee discussions is here and the Subordinate Legislation Committee's discussions are available here
A transcript of the Stage 3 debate is available here
Stage One Documents: