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Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: Having introduced some figures to the equation D/2 + 2, I find that if we take D as 2/2 + 2, we have a height of 3 m, which equates to approximately 9 ft 9 in, which is approximately 6 ft 6 inches away from the back window of a property. Would the hon. Gentleman consider it acceptable to have a hedge of 9 ft 9 inches approximately 6 ft from his back door? I will be happy to translate the figures into metres, if the hon. Gentleman feels that it is appropriate.
Mr. Chope: In this particular case, I am not exercising my judgment, but relying on that of experts. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst thinks that it is a bad idea to do that, and perhaps I will come to regret it.
I am prepared to be generous to the Minister and the Government because they commissioned the research to try to find an objective test for working out what is an unreasonable loss of light resulting from a high hedge. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) has had a chance to look at the document placed in the Library in response to the parliamentary question that I asked, but if she reads it, she will find that it resulted from a commission given, for a fee, by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to the Tree Advice Trust. The project was carried out for the trust with funding from the Department.
The report, Building Research Establishment publication draft No. 203701, was prepared by Dr. Paul Littlefair of the BRE's environmental engineering centre. He pays tribute to a number of people who gave their time to discuss proposals and give advice and information. It is important that the hon. Lady knows that those people are not obsessed with the subject but have a broad range of interests. They include Guy Barter, Colin Crosby and Paul Goacher of the Royal Horticultural Society and Richard Nicholson of East Dorset district council. The council is in my constituency, so I know what a distinguished expert and tree-lover Richard Nicholson is. I am delighted that his expertise was made available to the authors of the report.
Others who contributed, and who may be known to hon. Members, include Clare Hinchliffe and Alan Bridgeman of Hedgeline, the single-issue pressure group that has been articulating the concerns of people throughout the country who are worried about fast-growing, dense conifers; Alistair Redler of Delva Patman Associates and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors; Becky Hesch of the London Tree Officers Association; Chris Colwell of the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea; and Barbara Milne of the London borough of Bromley. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst knows of Barbara Milne; she may be well one of his constituents. Other contributors were Jim Smith of Islington borough council, which demonstrates that a full range of areas is represented, and David Hall of an organisation called Envirobods Ltd.
Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the excellence of my constituent, but given the excellence of the list of people whom he has named, does he wonder why none of them appears to have been appointed a people's peer in the list announced yesterday? It strikes me that there has been a significant omission in this regard.
Mr. Chope: I agree, but perhaps their time will come. If they, using their expertise, are able to produce a rational, common-sense solution to this problem, which affects a significant minority of houses, they will be worthy of elevation to the other place, so that their expertise can be made more widely available in debates on such subjects in future.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I have had a further opportunity to look at the equation in amendment No. 117, and I think that it may have been mistakenly written down. It should probably be 2D + 2, rather than D/2 + 2, and I should be grateful for a copy of the development of the equation so that I can study it in depth.
Mr. Chope: I am sure that the hon. Lady will have an opportunity to study the document in depth. Unfortunately, I have only one copy with me today and as I am about it to refer it, I do not think that I can offer to surrender it via the PPS
Draft guidelines, including the proposed procedure for calculating hedge height, have recently been issued by BRE for limited consultation. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of the House. These guidelines will be tested against the sample of problem hedges and will be refined--as necessary--in the light of the results of these field tests and the consultation. The final report on this project is due to be submitted to my Department at the end of July 2001."--[Official Report, 23 April 2001; Vol. 367, c. 71W.]
Mr. Chope: I do not agree. The formula may be too precise for the hon. Lady, but my amendment would create a threshold; if that threshold is not satisfied, a complaint cannot be made. The amendment does not state that once the threshold is passed, a complaint will automatically be sustained and it will be possible to get a remedy from the local authority; it creates a minimum threshold at which a complaint can be made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull has said that the matter will be subject to consultation, as the Minister confirmed in his written answer. The crunch issue is how a person living in a house with someone else's cupressus or leylandii hedge at the end of the garden can assess his chances of being able to make a satisfactory complaint if there is no objective measurement. Noise can be metered but, despite efforts, it has not been possible to produce an easily assessable measure of lux coming through windows that would enable the right remedy to be provided.
The BRE, a distinguished body, has therefore produced guidelines resulting from discussions with the people to whom I have referred. The guidelines on daylight to windows of dwellings are based on those in the BRE report issued in 1991, entitled "Site Layout Planning for Daylight and Sunlight: A Guide to Good Practice", except that they propose that angular criteria be replaced by spacing to height ratios for ease of application. The BRE established guidelines for good site layout planning for daylight and sunlight, and there is a read-across to the position in which a hedge at the end of someone's garden may be causing loss of light to his windows. The BRE's conclusion is reasonable.
If my amendment were incorporated in the Bill, people who saw themselves as victims of high, dense hedges would be able to work out easily whether they were likely to get a reasonable result if they complained. It would also be possible to give tremendous security to people who were worried that their hedge might be too high and that they might receive an order from the local authority and be subject to criminal sanctions. Had the BRE's work, which was published only this week, appeared two or three years ago, we probably would not be having this debate, as there probably would not be a need for the legislation before us.
It is because I feel passionately that that solution is right and reasonable that I would like it to be included in the Bill. If it is not, as I have said, millions of households will wonder whether or not they will be adversely affected by the measure. It might be argued that the Government's original agenda envisaged that the BRE report would come out after the election had been called and the Bill was no longer a live issue in the House. However, we should take advantage of the fact that the guidance has appeared, even though it is only in draft and is subject to consultation. Why should we not legislate on the basis of it, rather than go for the much more draconian and wide-ranging solution in the Bill?
To try to keep matters simple, amendment No. 117 is limited to the loss of light to windows directly opposite a hedge. The BRE document includes a series of calculations dealing with side windows and garden light. As hon. Members will know from my subsequent amendments, I am concerned about trying to achieve a remedy for loss of light to the garden, for which the document also has solutions that could be included in the Bill. The most important matter, however, concerns people whose main living room windows are adversely affected by loss of light caused by hedges at the end of their garden, which might be quite close.
As the hon. Member for Crosby has worked out, if the amendment is accepted, most hedges will not be caught by the legislation. It is therefore sensible, as only a small minority of cases which are indeed appalling warrant the intervention of the criminal law. If we do not discuss all the amendments to the Bill, I hope that we will get publicity for the BRE's recommendations.
If constituents tell their Members that there is a problem, Members will be able to say, "These are the figures. How does the hedge measure against the reasonable guidelines advanced by the Building Research Establishment? Do you not think that it would be