Previous SectionIndexHome Page

11 am

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To take up the hon. Gentleman's reference to a nut, I refer him to the High Hedges Bill research paper 01/20 of 7 March 2001, which refers to the

as being 5,200. The paper states that

In my opinion, that constitutes a significant problem.

Mr. Chope: Indeed. I am not trying to belittle the problem. I am saying that we have a potential solution before us. Why do we not take advantage of it? Legislation should be as precise as possible and open to as little interpretation and discretion as possible, especially where the criminal law is involved. I am sure that the hon. Lady would agree with that. People need to know where they stand in relation to the hedge at the end of their garden or somebody else's garden. Given the work that has been done by the BRE, I think that we have the makings of a solution.

It is not only the BRE that has undertaken work in this area. The solution was forecast to an extent in the "High Hedges: Possible Solutions" consultation document. Paragraph 5.39 on height and distance limits, states:

I emphasise this--

Those advantages are overwhelming when dealing with problems that could affect many people.

The document continues:

Surprisingly, that solution is similar to that reached by the BRE. That approach would be extremely helpful in dealing with the problem.

Mr. Forth: Although I can well appreciate my hon. Friend's desire for certainty in legislation, this rather

27 Apr 2001 : Column 571

formulaic approach seems not to take account of the huge variation in the configuration of houses and gardens in relation to one another, and particularly in relation to boundaries. Does he agree that there must be considerable flexibility and perhaps even subjectivity in trying to take into account enormous variations in, for example, the constituencies of the hon. Members for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) and for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), my constituency and that of my hon. Friend, to mention only a few, to say nothing of your constituency, Mr. Deputy Speaker? There is huge variation in garden and house sizes. Should not the Bill fully allow for that? Is my hon. Friend satisfied that his formulae will allow such flexibility?

Mr. Chope: Yes, I am. Having considered the matter with a certain scepticism and having always been keen that we should try to find an objective measurement, I think that the work of the Building Research Establishment has produced a formula that can be applied and calculated easily by ordinary people.

I appreciate that some gardens are much smaller than others. I accept that there will be differences in the distance between a house and the end of the garden. That is taken account of. In my formula, D is the distance between the outside window wall of the complainant's house and the centre of the hedge. If we halve that distance and add 2 m and it is found that the hedge height is greater than that, there is a cause of action and the complaint can be entertained by the local authority. If the hedge height is lower than that measurement, no complaint can be made. What could be clearer than that? Such an approach would save an enormous number of wasted complaints.

I accept that my amendment on its own would not deal with what happens where the hedge is to one side of the window, but a similar formula can be applied in that situation. I shall not deal with the formula that applies to the loss of light to gardens because I have tabled a separate amendment in a different group to deal with that. Paragraph 5 of the BRE report tends to show that that is an extremely difficult matter to assess.

The BRE was able to produce guidelines on site layout planning for daylight and sunlight and a guide to good practice, and similar guidelines can be used to determine the thresholds that, if exceeded, can trigger the remedies set out in the Bill. I understand my right hon. Friend's scepticism but I think that my response answers his point.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I am attempting to follow what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but would he care to inject a little clarity for me? Is he now in favour of the first formula, which is D/2+2, whereby a distance of 6 ft 6 inches from the house would allow the owner of an adjoining property to have a hedge of 9 ft 9 inches, or is he in favour of the next formula that he puts forward, where there is a proportional relationship between the distance from the back of the window to the centre of the hedge and the height of the hedge, namely a distance of 6 ft equating to a hedge height of 6 ft? I favour neither formula.

Mr. Chope: The hon. Lady has confused me because she is dealing with feet rather than metres. I have been trying to simplify these matters. I have used the formula that is set out in the BRE report, with a view to

27 Apr 2001 : Column 572

overcoming this very problem. I think that she has misunderstood the issue. I do not know whether she has had the chance to slip out to the Library to obtain a photocopy of the relevant document. If and when she succeeds in doing that and she reads the document, she will find that my amendment is wholly in line with paragraph 4 of the recommendations of the BRE and the advisers. She will understand that it is a reasonable compromise.

The hon. Lady may be surprised that it will result in, for example, a 9 ft hedge being acceptable at the end of somebody's garden. Why should it not be acceptable if it is not causing any loss of light?

There were some asides, both in Committee and on Second Reading, about losses of views. People living many houses away from another house might be able to use the Bill's provisions so as to get trees chopped down that are obscuring their view of the sea, for example.

Highcliffe castle is one of the best tourist attractions in my constituency. If one looks at old pictures of the castle, one sees that there were no trees around it at all, so if the houses that now exist close to the castle had existed then, they would have had uninterrupted sea views--and the wind that would come with them. Generations ago, however, holm-oaks were planted in the area and there are now many green and protected trees, subject to tree preservation orders, around the castle. Are we saying that, other things being equal, people who bought houses close to the castle should be able to have those large evergreen trees taken down so that they can have a view?

We should concentrate on the particular mischief, which is the loss of light. If we extend the argument to rights to views and permission to cut down perfectly good trees because they interfere with somebody's view, we will be in dangerous territory. That is another reason why I oppose the wide drafting in the Bill.

Mr. Forth: Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend. His point is probably answered in clause 4(4)(b), under which the local authority will be obliged to take into account

That may be a saving provision to protect against the problems that he foresees. These matters are all, of course, highly subjective and we would all be at the mercy of the local authority, but we are anyway, in relation to normal planning matters. The Bill may have anticipated the point, and clause 4(4)(b) may answer it.

Mr. Chope: I accept my right hon. Friend's point, but my problem with clause 4(4)(b) is that it leaves a subjective test in the hands of the local authority.

Mr. John M. Taylor: We all accept that there are difficulties with subjectivity, but as the law stands, the only remedy of a citizen adversely affected is to resort to the law of nuisance, which my hon. Friend, as a distinguished barrister, knows is one of the most convoluted and difficult areas of English law. The merit of my Bill, if I may say so, is to introduce rather more objective tests. Height, after all, can be measured, and light is capable of being measured. My favourite game is cricket. The umpires determine whether play is possible

27 Apr 2001 : Column 573

by carrying a photographer's light meter. I suggest that there is more objectivity in the Bill than in the English law of nuisance.

Next Section

IndexHome Page