Huw Worthington advises on neighbour disputes over high hedges and how these may be addressed using procedures set out in the 'High Hedges Act (NI) 2011
New Legislation loosely defines a high hedge as a barrier to light that consists of two or more evergreens (or is predominately evergreen) and rises to more than two metres.
The High Hedges Act (NI) 2011 came into force on 31st March 2012 and contains a procedure under which a person affected by a neighbour’s high hedge can make application to the local Council. Upon payment of a fee to the Council, the Council will consider what action shall be taken. This could include the service of a notice on the owner of the hedge which may require the hedge owner to take initial action within a period of time. If the works specified in the notice are carried out within that timescale, then there may be no need for further action. In the event that the works are not carried out, the owner of the hedge may be subject to criminal proceedings. The proceedings afford a right of appeal to the Northern Ireland Valuation Tribunal.
Most importantly for owners of hedges that exceed two metres in height if your neighbour makes application and is ultimately successful and you subsequently fail to deal with the Council’s request (or indeed you appeal and lose your appeal), any remedial notice together with fees and expenses may be registered as a statutory charge against your property.
Always remember that disputes between neighbours have to be notified to any potential purchaser when selling your house.
As a practitioner, I know only too well that neighbour disputes can escalate very quickly and whilst the planting of a fast growing hedge may seem to be the ideal way to screen your property from the view of an overly interested neighbour, it is important to note that this legislation will open up a new right of action for many people affected by high hedges.
Huw Worthington is Senior Partner of Worthingtons Solicitors Belfast, Bangor and Newtownards.