To the south of Fort William, Argyllshire, lies the village of Ballachulish. An idyllic place with views of the mountains and the Loch. However, over the last few years, a war has been declared between neighbours.
Malcolm and Margaret McLeod, originally from Wadhurst, bought their semi-detached house in 1991 to use as a holiday home, where they enjoyed the views and the peace and quiet. In 2003, the neighbours Karen and Duncan MacRae planted a hedge that they wanted to merge with their current Cyprus tree.
The McLeods have said that the 48 foot long hedge was not maintained and was left to grow until it blocked out both the scenery and light in their garden. The McLeods spoke to their neighbour who told them that the tree was in fact a wedding present from Duncan’s late mother so they decided not to take matters further with that.
However, the McLeods spoke to the Council about the hedge, who insisted that the MacRaes reduce the height to 8 feet. The MacRaes rebuffed this demand from the Council stating that the hedge needed to be higher to stop the McLeods from looking into their garden from their raised conservatory. They spoke to the Scottish Government and also made it known about the sentimental value of the tree.
But they failed to come to an agreement over the trimming of the hedge and they had to leave it with the Scottish Government to solve the problem. They have said that they will make a decision at a later date.
This is not the first time that a hedge has caused havoc in Scotland – last year, a resident of Buchlyvie decided to stop trimming her hedge, resulting in a 40ft hedge and an angered dispute between neighbours. You can read more here.
What are my rights?
In England, there is the Right to Light Act 1959, which provides legal protection when neighbouring trees, hedges and, indeed, buildings reduce the amount of daylight reaching into a property.
In Scotland, the new High Hedges (Scotland) Act was introduced in 2014 to stop high hedges ruining the light and enjoyment of a property. It specifies that there must be more than one bush, tree or shrub to constitute a hedge, it must be more than 2 metres high, and it must form a barrier to light.
Before applying for a High Hedge Notice, the disputer will have a duty to ask their neighbour about it twice, to give them time to resolve the issue. If the issue is unresolved the Council will make a decision as to whether the hedge should be trimmed back.
This does not always mean the end of the matter, as both parties can appeal or even simply ignore the request to downsize the hedge. If the request was ignored the Council would have to investigate, make contact with the owner or even carry out the work themselves.
Whatever you do, don’t take matters into your own hands. Although the law says that you can cut off any branches that overhang your side of the boundary between your properties (or trim any roots coming through), you have to offer to return them to the owner. Any fruit on the branches is also the property of the owner of the tree, and it is technically theft to take them without permission. Usually, this is not a problem – in all likelihood, your neighbour will be agreeable to you taking the fruit, and disposing of any trimmings.
Disputes between neighbours are an all too common occurrence. Should you be embroiled with a neighbour in an argument about boundaries, or perhaps you believe your right to light is being breached, a local Chartered Surveyor can help. Find yours at: www.propertysurveying.co.uk
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