MPs try to hedge against an unsociable fast mover

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The Independent Online
It is growing insidiously, causing darkness, depression, and despair. Its victims regard it as public enemy number one, and, so far, they have been defenceless against its march through the suburbs of England. Leylandii, the fastest-growing hedge in the West, has caused neighbours to engage in war, and now a group of Labour MPs are seeking a solution.

Backbench MP Lynne Jones is taking up cudgels against the monster hybrids from America on behalf of home-owners who feel their lives have been ruined by it. She is leading a campaign for the Home Office to allow an amendment to the Crime and Disorder Bill to outlaw hedges that have become a nuisance to those who have to live in their shadow. It follows the saga of one of her constituents, Michael Jones, of Tillyard Croft, in Selly Oak, who spent pounds 100,000 in legal fees fighting the Leylandii at the bottom of his garden. His was the most expensive case of its kind in British legal history, and he won the right to have the hedge cut down to size after it had soared to around 30ft in height. His neighbour had to pay the costs, but Mr Jones risked losing his house if he had lost.

More than two hundred fellow sufferers have contacted him seeking a remedy, and Mr Jones has formed the Hedgeline to offer help. "Leylandii are terrible in different ways ... one is winter gloom, because they have no relief from its shadow; Leylandii takes away the sky, and that is the most depressing in summer time. They drain away moisture from the garden, so you are left with a mono-culture ... But there are other problems, with roots and house subsidence."

Leylandii were introduced from America at the turn of the century from hybrid conifers; they are propagated by cuttings and can grow four feet in a year. Sufferers from Leylandii oppression sometimes show symptoms of a fixation about the hedge in their neighbour's garden, which tends to take over their lives.

But remedies are difficult to find. Planning laws against hedges are unclear. Mr Jones fought and won, but his neighbour has planted another hedge inside the cut-down Leylandii which is growing steadily. In Britain, where the home is the castle, there is no universal way of controlling growth of a neighbour's hedge.

Ms Jones and a group of Labour MPs with similar constituency problems, including Dale Campbell Savours and Chris Mullin, lobbied Angela Eagle, the environment minister, for action. She was sympathetic and one possibility that emerged would be to include it in the Crime and Disorder Bill, which seeks to tackle anti-social behaviour. Campaigners against Leylandii argued that neighbours who planted Leylandii and allowed them to grow uncontrollably were guilty of anti-social behaviour and should be outlawed by the Bill. The Bill has started its passage through Parliament in the Lords and will be debated in the Commons in spring.

But the Home Office rejected the idea on grounds that the Bill would become unwieldy. "There was no scope in the Crime and Disorder Bill to include an amendment," said a Home Office spokesman. But the MPs are determined to press on and are considering tabling their own amendment to the Bill. The Department of Environment is consulting local authorities on action it should take to stop the march of the giant invader.

- Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent