Clause 2 - High Hedges

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

Clause 2 defines a high hedge as:

''so much of a barrier to light or access as—

(a) is formed wholly or predominantly by a line of two or more evergreens; and

(b) rises to a height of more than two metres above ground level.''

There is a power to extend the definition of a high hedge through regulations under clause 20. That would allow us, for instance, to include deciduous or individual trees at a later date. Most hon. Members who have studied the Bill will realise that clause 2, as a clause of definition, is one of the more contentious ones. Many of us have received letters from people referring to trees that do not come within that definition. I suggest that it would be impossible and impracticable for us to seek to extend the Bill to include all arboricultural and organic tree growth.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Colchester

I wonder whether the hon. Member could explain why his Bill cannot deal with the issue of a single tree. In a high-density residential area, a single tree on a boundary, or in a garden, can cause massive problems to the neighbourhood, in the same way that in a more salubrious part of the borough, a line of trees would. A single tree can be just as damaging. Why can the Bill not deal with the matter of an individual tree?

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Llafur, Ealing North

The Bill is not intended to apply to individual trees. I accept that individual trees can be the focus of disputes between neighbours, but the Bill does not set out to remedy all perceived problems with trees. The Bill is specific; it addresses a specific problem in a specific way. With respect, I suggest that were we to try to include every tree-related neighbour dispute, we may be here for many years, and not all of us would have that privilege. The Bill does not seek to discourage the planting of suitable trees in a garden, but it concentrates on the main problem, namely that of tall screens of foliage. If the hon. Gentleman were minded to table an amendment at a later stage, or to draft a separate Bill, many of us would look at his proposals with interest. For now, we wish the Bill to address the specific problem that we face.

Photo of Mr Adrian Flook Mr Adrian Flook Ceidwadwyr, Taunton

Can the hon. Gentleman clarify where the 2 m should be measured from—the complainant's side or the tree owner's side? If there is a step down between two back gardens, where would the 2 m start?

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Llafur, Ealing North

I am absolutely delighted that that question has been asked; what a good question it is. Some questions defy the ability of a humble parliamentarian to give a straightforward answer. I

have not the faintest idea, but I suspect that the Minister may be able to assist me.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Clause 2(1)(b) says clearly

''two metres above ground level'',

so it is wherever ground level is on the disputed boundary. If it is anything other than that, I am sure that inspiration will be forthcoming, but that is the starting position.

Mr. Pound rose—

Photo of Mr Adrian Flook Mr Adrian Flook Ceidwadwyr, Taunton

For the sake of clarification, 2 m above whose ground level?

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Llafur, Ealing North

May I try to answer? The muse of inspiration has perched upon my shoulder. We suggest that the 2 m should be measured from the ground in which the hedge is growing, which is usually on the owner's side. That just came to me, and I cannot imagine why I neglected to mention it earlier.

The clause defines a high hedge as

''so much of a barrier to light or access as is formed wholly or predominantly by a line of two or more evergreens; and rises to a height of more than two metres above ground level.''

Taking the definition as a whole, we envisage that a local authority will ask the following series of questions when considering a complaint under this legislation. First, has the hedge that is the subject of the complaint two or more trees or shrubs in it, and are they roughly in line? Secondly, does it comprise wholly or predominantly evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs? Thirdly, is it over 2 m high? Finally, does it act to some degree as a barrier to light or access, even though it may have gaps in it? If the answer to all those questions is yes, the local authority can go on to consider the effects of the hedge on the complainant's reasonable enjoyment of his property in accordance with clause 1.

That is the basic approach that we would expect local authorities and others to adopt in determining whether a particular hedge is one to which the Bill applies.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Colchester

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that we are not necessarily considering a boundary line? Some people might try to get round the regulations by planting trees 2 or 3 m into their gardens. Can we have confirmation that, irrespective of where the line of two or more trees or hedging is planted, it would be deemed to be an offence?

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Llafur, Ealing North

In future, we shall refer to this as the Thoresby avenue criterion. It does not matter where the hedge is if the effect is a loss of light, outlook or amenity.

Photo of Mr Tony Clarke Mr Tony Clarke Llafur, Northampton South

I apologise in advance for complicating matters further, but there are occasions on which public land allows for car parking at the rear of somebody's premises. With the car park sub-base, the land levels between a car park and a neighbouring property could be quite different. Measuring from the ground level of the car park, surely even a hedge 1 m high would cause light nuisance or disturbance to the neighbour. Has

that point been raised in any of my hon. Friend's previous discussions?

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Llafur, Ealing North

I shall say two things. First, the Bill applies only to domestic properties and secondly, one of the many beauties of this exquisite legislation is that one can happily grow a hedge to whatever height one wishes unless somebody complains about it. If I lived adjacent to a car park in the Sixfields area of Northampton, and the local authority, which was excellently run until last week, decided to grow a row of trees, I would be probably be grateful. If I complained from the perspective of a domestic occupier, I would be within the ambit of the Bill, but the other way round would not apply.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.