Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

A growing problem for neighbours

In a largely rural community such as Northern Ireland hedgerows are an important feature of the countryside. They provide a valuable habitat for plants, insects, birds and small animals.

Indeed, it is an offence to trim hedges in the countryside during the bird nesting season unless for health and safety reasons along laneways and on roadsides. They also prevent soil erosion, provide shelter for livestock and are a valuable food source for birds.

However, the story can be quite different in suburban or urban areas, especially where hedges are allowed to grow to excessive heights or to intrude into neighbours’ properties. The popular hedging tree, Leylandii, is seen by many as a blight on the landscape because of its fast rate of growth.

If left unpruned, it can quickly reach enormous heights, causing annoyance to neighbours who find their views eradicated and the light entering their gardens filtered to an unacceptable level.

It is not uncommon for hedges to be the source of long running feuds between neighbours. While such disputes seldom reach the tragic conclusion of one in the East Midlands, which led to a man killing his neighbour and then committing suicide, they can lead to bitter fall-outs and have neighbours reaching for either a chainsaw or a legal writ.

Hedge growing may not be instantly regarded as anti-social behaviour, but a huge hedge can be as annoying to some people as a lager lout is to the rest of us.

New legislation is to be introduced in Northern Ireland mirroring the law in England and Wales.

Essentially, councils will be able to investigate complaints of excessively high evergreen or semi-evergreen hedges or trees. They will then be empowered to issue a fine and a notice to the hedge or tree owner to cut the offending evergreen to an acceptable height. Non-compliance could lead to fines.

Quite properly, councils will only be able to intervene after both parties have exhausted all other efforts to resolve the complaint. Neighbours should be encouraged to discuss the issue of hedge heights before other methods of redress are sought. It is |

entirely proper that everyone’s enjoyment of their gardens or properties should not be spoiled by excessively high or overhanging hedges and trees.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots is to be congratulated in bringing forward the proposals, even if the introduction date of 2011 is hardly indicative of haste. He says the law will only apply to evergreen or semi-evergreen hedges or trees, but there are times when deciduous shrubs and trees can grow out of control, even if much more slowly. Surely it is unfair not to give householders the opportunity of redress in those circumstances.

In the great scale of things, this legislation may not be most earth shattering initiative from Stormont, but it is one which seeks to address a problem which can develop into a source of disagreement and even anger. By providing a dispute resolution procedure, it can help reduce tensions and improve quality of life, outcomes not often associated with local politics.

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