Scotland politics

High hedge bill is intended to reduce disputes

New laws to tackle disputes over high hedges will stop people's lives being made a misery, campaigners have told MSPs.

Hedges can be used as a "weapon" during battles caused by planning disputes like house extensions, they said.

A bill to outlaw high garden hedges has been lodged at Holyrood by SNP backbencher Mark McDonald.

However, wildlife groups have raised concerns the proposed law may lead to the removal of protected trees.

Problems with overgrown vegetation can lead to confrontation between residents, which has been dubbed "hedge rage".

Derek Park, of pressure group Scothedge, told Holyrood's local government committee, which is considering the High Hedges (Scotland) Bill there were an estimated 5,000 cases in Scotland, but argued a new law would force people to change their behaviour.

He said: "The cases will dissolve. People will start to do the right thing.

"If you make a 30mph limit, people obey the 30mph limit. You don't need to put a policeman with a speed gun at the entrance to every village," he said.

Mr Park added: "We're not talking about busybodies going around saying 'there's a 6ft tree there'.

"We're talking about a complaints-based system when the people who complain are often old, bullied, infirm, disabled, low-income people whose life, frankly, is being made an absolute misery by vegetation."

The bill has proposed a definition of a high hedge at two metres, formed by a row or two of evergreens, such as the fast-growing leylandii, which forms a barrier to light.

Councils would act as mediators to settle disputes between neighbours and, if required, would go in to cut back hedges itself, charging the costs to an owner who failed to take action.

The committee also heard concerns from groups, including the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Woodland Trust Scotland, that "unintended consequences" in the legislation could see the removal of so-called heritage trees.

They suggested the bill should define trees as "non-native evergreen or semi-evergreen" trees, to avoid the pitfall.

Despite high hedge laws being adopted in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, Scotland is not covered by specific legislation in this area.

The proposed bill would need to make it through Holyrood's three stages of scrutiny, before becoming law.

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