Clause 1 - Complaints to which this Act applies

High Hedges (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 7 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Llafur, Ealing North

Let me quickly take the opportunity to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham), who I hope will be with us in a moment, for his contribution to the earlier Bill. I also thank the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), and I am happy once again to acknowledge his efforts, as I did on Second Reading. Without them, we would probably not be here today. I also thank the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) and his officials for their extremely helpful work and for the greatly appreciated assistance, advice and occasional warnings that they have given me.

Clause 1 sets out the type of complaint with which the Bill deals. If one owns or occupies a domestic property, and one thinks that the height of a hedge on someone else's land affects one's reasonable enjoyment of that property, one can complain to the local authority. The Bill uses the shorthand term ''neighbouring land'' to describe where the hedge is growing, but that does not necessarily mean that it must be next door. It could be several gardens down the road, but if it adversely affects one's property and impacts on one's enjoyment, one may take a complaint to the local authority.

Let me say at this point that I have been contacted by Lodders solicitors of Stratford-upon-Avon, in the county of Warwickshire, regarding the definition of neighbouring land. The Minister and I have carefully considered the points that they raised, and we feel that the Bill's wording meets their concerns, although I shall extrapolate if the Committee wants me to.

To return to my previous point, the hedge does not have to be growing in someone else's garden and could, for instance, be on parkland that backs on to the property. It is not where the hedge is located but the effect that it has on the quality of life that is important.

Let me briefly mention the issue of empty property. The Bill contains a special provision to allow owners of empty properties to bring a complaint. We considered the issue because such people may, for example, be unable to sell their house because of the high hedge—that is not unknown.

At this stage, let me pay tribute to the well known organisation, Hedgeline, which has been assiduous in pursuit of the Bill. It has raised several points, including the one about empty property, which will be addressed in Committee.

Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Llafur, Stalybridge and Hyde

Will my hon. Friend clarify what impact the Bill would have on a hedge on the other side of the road? I was looking at just such a hedge in Thoresby avenue in my constituency this weekend. Several people from the houses on the other side of the road came out to complain about the hedge, saying that it was ruining their quality of life by totally depriving them of light. The hedge is in the garden of an empty property. Would it be covered by the Bill?

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Llafur, Ealing North

I thank my hon. Friend. I am familiar with the environs of Thoresby avenue; indeed, I once had the great pleasure of visiting them with him. The Bill specifically states that it is the hedge's effect, rather than its physical location, that is important. The hedge could be 500 miles away—[Laughter.] I appreciate that that is pushing the envelope a tad. None the less, it could be some distance away. If the objective geometric criteria established by the Building Research Establishment show that a householder or occupier is suffering loss of light or enjoyment, however, the hedge will come within the ambit of the Bill. Perhaps I should withdraw the suggestion that a hedge may be 500 miles away and say that I hope that the Thoresby avenue clause will stand part. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend and that he will allow me to visit the sylvan splendours of Stalybridge again in the future.

The Bill allows for people to complain to their local authority if their reasonable enjoyment of their property has been adversely affected by the height of a high hedge. The authority could be asked to intervene if the excessive height of a hedge has resulted in some loss of amenity. The Bill's wording offers the flexibility to deal with a range of problems associated with high hedges. Those problems include the obstruction of daylight and sunlight—jointly, or as separate issues—as well as loss of view. In addition, someone could bring a complaint if a small garden was dominated by a neighbouring hedge, making the situation uncomfortable. Damage to plants would also be covered, provided that the damage was attributable to the height of the hedge. For example, a tall hedge may prevent light from reaching the plants, or it may be too high for the complainant to be able to trim branches that overhang the property, which may shield plants from rain.

Finally, I turn to the slightly contentious—if not controversial—issue of roots. There has been much discussion about roots. Many of us have become experts in an area that we never previously imagined we would have any knowledge of, let alone expertise. If the Committee wishes, I could talk—if not bore—for hours on the subject of the preference of roots for growing in cool, damp places, and their inability to pierce water pipes. However, I will spare the Committee that, unless Members drag it out of me.

The Bill specifically excludes complaints about the effect of the roots of a high hedge. In particular, that means that complaints about root-related property damage, including subsidence, are not covered. As hon. Members are aware, those matters are already covered in existing legislation. As with overhanging branches, people have the right to cut back to the

boundary any roots from a hedge that encroaches on to their property, so a remedy is already available to deal with most of those matters.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.