Councils to get powers to prune leylandii

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Local councils are to be given new legal powers to chop down overgrown garden hedges as part of government moves to end neighbour disputes.

Local councils are to be given new legal powers to chop down overgrown garden hedges as part of government moves to end neighbour disputes.

Michael Meacher, the Environment Minister, will today reveal legislation to tackle so-called nuisance hedges such as the fast-growing leylandii variant. Arguments about the trees, which can grow by three feet a year up to about 100ft, have led to assaults and even one death in the past few years.

The Government had considered imposing a maximum height restriction for the bushes but has now decided that would be difficult to enforce.

Under the plans, neighbours will instead be allowed to call in their local council to settle arguments over the height of their common borders.

The move follows consultation which found that 97 per cent of the public believed the Government should take action to sort out the problems caused by hedges. More than 94 per cent of those who responded, including 77 per cent of local authorities, to a survey by the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions believed new laws were needed

The most favoured option was a system allowing town halls to determine complaints, backed by legal powers to order hedge-cutting action.

Other options, including stronger planning regulations, extending the right to light to include land as well as buildings and better mediation services were all seen as too weak by the public. The laws will in effect give council officers the right to act as "judge and jury" in disputes, having the final say in the matter even if one neighbour disagrees.

Mr Meacher, who said laws would be introduced as soon as there was space in the Parliamentary timetable, added that the nine-month consultation process had proved there was a clear need to take action.

"We recognise that over-grown garden hedges have caused distress to thousands of people and we take these problems very seriously. Our consultation has confirmed the overwhelming support for tougher controls.

"This commitment to legislation is an important step in relieving the unnecessary suffering caused by nuisance hedges. However, involving the local council should be a last resort. If possible, the best way of settling problems is for neighbours to agree among themselves."

The Government's inquiry began after MPs of all parties were deluged with complaints from constituents about overgrown leylandii blocking their light and undermining their properties' foundations.

Last year Jim Cunningham, Labour MP for Coventry South, introduced a backbench Bill to give council officers powers to conciliate between neighbours and then order the hedges to be cropped if there was no settlement.