Enter the Ministry of Monster Hedges

ENVIRONMENT Infamous conifers grow into big issue as government starts consultation exercise. Meanwhile, an old monk may have the answer

PEACE IN Ireland seems to be poised on a knife-edge. Relations with France might be teetering on the brink of the abyss. But our Government, being the British Government, still has time to concentrate its attention on the problem of Hedges from Hell.

A full-scale Whitehall consultation exercise is being launched today on the subject of Leylandii - the rocketing cypress tree that turns friendly neighbours into mortal enemies - and other high garden hedges that become detested nuisances rather than ornamental boundaries.

Thanks to a bulging postbag on the subject, which far outweighs letters about global climate change or the hole in the ozone layer, ministers want to know if they should officially cut Leylandii down to size.

For starters they have produced a leaflet, The Right Hedge For You, which, without exposing the Government to any more accusations of running a nanny state, gently suggests to the prospective hedge planter that something capable of growing 100ft high at a rate of more than three feet a year (Leylandii, for example) is perhaps not entirely suitable for the patio of their maisonette. Now they are inviting views on whether to intervene directly with laws tackling overly high hedges.

The problem is a very real one, insists the Environment minister Michael Meacher. "From some of the cases people have written to me about, this is a very serious issue for them, causing them acute distress. Being literally overshadowed from very close next door is deeply disturbing to a lot of people, materially and psychologically. There is the loss of light and the whole psychological impact of living in the shade and being blocked off."

The Leylandii problem began in the 1960s when the feathery hybrid, a cross between the Nootka cypress of Alaska and the Monterey cypress of California, began to oust the much slower-growing privet as Britain's favourite garden hedge species. The Leylandii's runaway quality produced anguish for neighbours when owners did not managethe two or three severe trimmings a year necessary to keep it under control.

The Government estimates that over the past 30 years there have been about 17,000 cases of problem high hedges that have caused householders to contact their local council. In the past two years alone, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has received 2,500 letters on the subject. "This is a very sensitive area, relations between neighbours," Mr Meacher said. "To plump for a solution without proper public consultation would not be wise."

n Your opinions about Leylandii and high hedges should be sent to: Funmi Wood, Rural Development Division, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Floor3/C5, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU.

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