CASEWORK | Leylandii and High Hedges

Over the last month, I’ve had to deal with 2 pieces of casework that have the common theme of Leylandii – one liking them and wanting them retained; the other wanting them taken down. Fortunately we weren’t talking about the same trees!

At the beginning of June I was contacted by a resident worried that conifer trees on Myrtle Avenue were being taken down – at a time when they were full of nesting birds, mainly blackbirds, blue tits and sparrows.

Like the resident, I could not understand why this has been done at the height of the breeding time for the birds and not in the autumn, so time for some questions in need of answering.

The property is one of Exeter City Council’s stock of social housing. Being of Laings Easiform design and construction, it is in need refurbishing (to the same standard as the house next door).

One of ECC’s surveyors was carrying out the initial inspection works and noticed that there were some trees in the garden in need of some pruning.

It seems the trees in question were the notorious Leylandi which had become large in growth planted by previous tenants and not maintained.

An order was raised was raised for one of ECC’s gardening contractors to carry out the work and some clearance of the garden. As soon as they realised there were nesting birds, the work on the trees stopped. This will remain the case until the birds have left the bushes.

The resident was aware that they could not rely on things outside of my property to enhance my garden, but expressed concern that removal of the trees would lead to a loss of privacy.

ECC had decided to prune the Leylandii as they had spread to  take up a considerable part of the garden therefore limiting full use of the garden once the refurbishment has been completed. There are also issues with them restricting the natural light.

It is possible that ECC will be looking at  complete removal  – once the refurbishment is completed and a new tenant moves in, it would become the responsibility of the new tenant – rather than ECC – to maintain the trees.

Happily, I have been told that now the work has been paused, some of the birds have returned – including blackbirds revisiting their nests

Leylandii in Myrtle Road
Leylandii in Myrtle Road

The other case was not quite as simple.

A resident contacted me for some advice on a neighbour’s “troublesome trees” – 40 foot tall Leylandii. They think the trees are quite a nuisance and wanted to know if there was any guidance on optimum height .

On matters like this, I would normally point people to the ever-so useful website run by Citizens Advice, where there is a page specifically about disputes between neighbours.

However, the advice on tall trees includes CONTACT your local authority, so no point signposting my resident to the Citizens Advice page!

The next port of call was the site,which has a page about Leylandii Law.

The advice here makes reference to  s.8 of Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 which could come into play here. However, I needed to clear that these provisions still stood since there has been a new law relating to antii-social behaviour – the ASB, Crime & Policing Act 2014.

I have been advised by ECC officers that s.8 of Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 still stands and set out a mechanism for dealing with tall hedges (including Leylandii.)

Essentially, the hedge has to be over 2 metres in height, and affecting the enjoyment of your property.

But that’s the easy bit! What happens next?

Essentially, the affected householder needs to first make reasonable attempts to negotiate a resolution with their neighbour. And not only negotiate, but have evidence that the have tried this approach.

The hard bit starts if this approach fails. In this instance you can approach Exeter City Council.

I would have thought that this would sit with our Environmental team, but it came as a surprise to me that it’s actually the Planning team that deals with this. They can be contacted via the High Hedges link on ECC’s website

DThe site makes clear that before complaining to the Council it is important to keep a record of what efforts have been made to try and settle the matter with the neighbours. The Council will want to see copies of letters or dates when the neighbours have been talked to.

I’ve spoken to the Planning department and they have given me some additional details and information on the process.

There would be a fee of around £385 for the submission of a formal complaint, but the formal process is lengthy, costly and there is no guarantee that there will be a successful outcome.

Indeed, once receiving the formal complaint, one route open to ECC under the legislation is that they can elect to take no action.

And this is not something that the Council generally undertakes – I understand that only one High Hedge notice has ever be issued by ECC (back in 2006).

So the reality is there is no substitute for dialogue and these sort of disputes are more likely to reach a successful outcome by talking to the neighbour and trying to negotiate a solution – an approach to ECC should be viewed as a last resort.

There are 2 documents that provide some additional background reading on the subject:
Over the garden hedge – on negotiating with your neighbour

High hedges – Complaining to the Council – a simple guide (and not a statement of the law) on what will happen if the Council get involved – using their powers in Part 8 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003.

To date this dispute has not been resolved…