LARNE Borough Council has received 20 enquiries relating to high hedge disputes since new legislation was introduced last year.
The High Hedges Act, which came into force in April, 2012 provided a mechanism for the resolution of complaints between neighbours about the height of hedges consisting of evergreen or semi-evergreen trees.
The legislation permits local government to arbitrate in complaints where hedges above two metres in height are affecting light reaching a neighbouring property. The council’s role is to become involved when neighbours have been unable to reach agreement themselves.
And councillors have been told that in the year since the Act was introduced, no formal complaints have been received in the Larne area. The council said this is because its officers had encouraged neighbours and worked with them to reach agreements that satisfied all parties.
The local authority added that the requirement for contact between neighbours and the payment of a fee had encouraged a resolution rather than an escalation of the disputes.
At the April meeting of Larne Council, director of environmental services Philip Thompson updated councillors on the enquiries received so far.
Minutes of the meeting state: “In dealing with enquiries about high hedges, council officers sought to establish what steps the person affected had taken to draw the issue to the attention of the hedge owner.
“Where no contact had been made, officers would provide advice on how this should be done and give an initial indication, from their experience, in whether the hedge in question came under within the definition of the Act.
“The fee for lodging a formal complaint had ensured that only valid complaints came forward. Where a complaint was justified and a formal complaint lodged, the compliant fee would be refunded to the complainant and charged to the hedge owner. Again, that had encouraged hedge owners to reach an agreement with affected neighbour.”
Mr Thompson added that should a formal complaint be received, it is likely that an arborologist’s report would be required to indicate the safe height the trees could be cut down to. An initial report would cost £250.
The officer concluded that, in the opinion of the council’s environmental health service, the current process on high hedge disputes was “working well”.
“All enquiries received were dealt with on an informal basis and advice was given to both the person making the enquiry and the hedge owner. This process didn’t involve the payment of any fee and enabled an assessment on the issue and the provision of advice to the parties involved to enable them to reach a solution. There were only a small number of ongoing issues,” Mr Thompson concluded.