‘High hedge’ charge needs review

A WHOPPING �350 charge for the district council to help settle so-called ‘high hedge’ disputes is in pressing need of review, a parish council has said.

Fearing that a surge in disputes over nuisance hedges would prove a burden on its resources, East Cambridgeshire District Council (ECDC) introduced the eye-watering charge for its help to settle the matter.

ECDC says the charge was necessary because a free service could lead to a huge drain on officers’ time and result in thousands of pounds worth of legal work.

The authority also insisted that charging for the service is standard practice nationwide, though Government legislation on the issue says that councils do not have to charge a fee.

Cllr Ian Allen, who sits on Witchford Parish Council, a body that has questioned whether the policy should be reviewed, said: “The district council introduced the charge because it was expected that there would be a flood of complaints, many of which could be frivolous and cost a lot of money to investigate.

“I actually think however, that the council has only had two or three complaints, which perhaps does not justify the cost.

“I think there are certainly people in the parishes who think it might be time to look at the charge again.”

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At a meeting of Witchford Parish Council earlier this month, councillors asked Cllr Allen to investigate whether the policy should be reviewed and the councillor said he would raise the issue with officers in upcoming meetings.

Dozens of council’s across England and Wales introduced a similar charge to ECDC, with Sevenoaks District Council in Kent the highest charging authority at �650.

The use of ECDC’s trees officer to come and assess dangerous trees however, has remained free of charge.

A parliamentary amendment to the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Bill saw local authorities given the power to step in and settle neighbourly disputes over high hedges in cases where neighbours have been unable to settle of their own accord.

Under the amendment, residents could complain to authorities about any hedges taller than two metres which were blocking light or access.

Authorities could then issue formal notices ordering the hedge to be cut, and failure to comply with the notice could lead to prosecution and a fine of up to �1,000.

According to Hedgeline, a support group for people locked in high hedge disputes that claims more than 4,000 members, arguments over nuisance hedges and border foliage are on the increase and can result in drawn out court proceedings.

“Since 2006 the council has charged at the average level in relation to other local authorities,” a spokesman for ECDC told the Ely Standard.

“The charge covers the legal work necessary in each case, the time and expertise of two officers visiting the site and following up any subsequent legal paperwork as well as any follow up visits that are required after an initial survey.

“We do also reimburse the fee if after the survey it doesn’t meet the requirements.”