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The noble Lord said: The Bill currently defines a high hedge as one composed of evergreens, being primarily aimed at leylandii. Amendment No. 5 seeks to include deciduous hedges in the Bill. Deciduous hedges can grow to heights significantly greater than two metres and may be composed of beech or thorn trees among other species. There is a celebrated beech hedge at Meikleour, near Blairgowrie, that was planted in 1746 and is now 600 yards long and 110 feet high. Furthermore, copper beech retains its leaves until the new growth in the spring. However, I am not suggesting that the hedge at Meikleour is a problem. My amendment seeks to include in the Bill hedges formed of deciduous trees as well as evergreens. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord's amendment is admirably clear. It seeks to extend the definition of high hedges to include deciduous as well as evergreen trees. As I said in response to the noble Lord's earlier amendment, if the Bill is to be workable it is better to keep it simple and to focus it on the main
The amendment could also bring traditional countryside hedgerows, which cause problems to a domestic property, within the scope of the Bill. Many of us have campaigned over many long yearsparticularly those of us involved with local governmentto encourage the return of hedgerows in the countryside. The amendment could have an adverse effect in that regard. These hedgerows tend to comprise predominantly deciduous trees and shrubs. There was some concern at Second Reading that we should avoid this and the potential conflict with our policies to promote and protect these important features of our countryside.
Having said that, there is provision to amend the definition of a high hedge through regulation rather than primary legislation. This enables us to return to the matter if experience shows that this is necessary and that there is a problem with deciduous as well as evergreen trees. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I listened to the Minister's interesting comments. However, I believe that the amendment is more important than I had appreciated. I have received a number of letters from people who are affected by just the problem we are discussing. One correspondent wrote of his neighbour's leylandii hedge that is now 20 feet high but incorporates a young lime tree. He makes the point that all the rest of the hedge could be cut but the lime tree would be exempt. He asked his neighbour to cut down the hedge, but the neighbour had only a small amount cut off. They still have no light through their first floor windows, although the sills of the windows in that room were specifically put 4 feet 10 inches from the ground to prevent any overlooking of the neighbours. The hedge is not needed for privacy or to prevent overlooking, but it is there and it contains deciduous trees.
I had another letter from a man about a planning application for the farmland property adjoining his, which was not granted. Someone put in a line of alders, which were very small when they were planted but are now more than 25 feet high and take away all the light to the house. The farm road on the other side is hardly used, but the trees are having a very damaging effect.
We must be clear that we are referring only to domestically occupied areas. That covers the point that the Minister made about hedgerows. I had a helpful letter from the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, the Minister who spoke at Second Reading. He covers the point about domestic property, saying:
The Minister clearly defines the properties that would be covered by the Bill. Rural hedgerows that are not right on top of a domestically occupied property would not be affected at all by the Bill, and that point covers it.
This is an important point. I believe that Amendment No. 9 would cover it, too. If a hedge had the effect of preventing light or amenity for the property next door, that amendment would cover it. We should consider the matter in that way. It is a question of where to amend the Bill; we might not need the word "deciduous" if we deleted "evergreen". We might simply deal with a hedge as a hedge, whether it is evergreen or deciduous. That is another way in which to consider the matter. There are various ways in which we could deal with this, either by adding "deciduous" or taking out "evergreen". The matter requires a lot of thought. Meanwhile, I hope that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw his amendment so that we can give the matter full consideration.
Lord Methuen: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, for their comments. It is certainly not my intention to destroy rural hedgerows; I am as keen on them as everybody else. However, if we simply barred leylandii, someone of evil intent could plant a beech hedge and let it grow. The point is to rethink the wording so that it includes that and avoids the situation in which leylandii could simply be replaced by beech. I shall return to the matter on Report with the co-operation of other Members of the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Coupled with this amendment is Amendment No. 8; they both address the same issue. I realised when rereading the Bill after Second Reading that it is not clear what is meant by "a barrier" in this context. I have tabled the amendments in the hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, can explain that in terms that I can follow, although other Members of the Committee may not need the explanation.
At first glance, one would expect a barrier to have something to do with restricting physical access. I doubt that that can be the case, because we are not necessarily talking about trees on a boundary. If the Bill refers to restricting a barrier to light, the point is covered by the very essence of the Bill, which is about trees that restrict light in an unreasonable fashion. The noble Baroness's amendment, Amendment No. 9, suggests that we are talking about a barrier of the nature of a fence or wall, because she uses the term,
I am a little baffled about what is added by describing the trees in question as constituting a barrier, and whether there is some characteristic in them that I have not understood that would bring them within the scope of the Bill. I hope that I am not
Lord Monson: This could be a useful amendment, which might make Amendment No. 9 redundant. I declare an interest as a trustee of a charitable trust that owns and manages a row of alms houses. Many years ago, the owner of an adjacent property planted a row of leylandii to screen himself from the inhabitants of the alms houses. Because he failed at any stage to prune the trees, they have now grown to a height of 45 to 50 feet, totally cutting off the afternoon and, indeed, much of the morning light from the alms houses and causing them to become damp and cold.
The irony is that the trees have totally failed in their original purpose to act as a barrier, because all the lower branches have simply dropped off, as does happen. The owner has planted a new hedge below two metres, parallel with the existing one. The original trees do not act as a barrier but they are still highly undesirable and antisocial. Amending the Bill through either Amendment No. 6, as moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, or Amendment No. 9, which stands in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, is vital to remedy the situation that I have described.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: It is clear that the definition would be changed by expunging references to "barrier", but it seems to us that including the idea that a hedge forms a barrier serves some useful purposes. First, it would focus attention on the dense screens that evergreens tend to create, which is the cause of complaint. Secondly, it would help to filter out complaints that have little chance of success before they reach the local authority.
The concept of what constitutes a barrier is generally understood. It is a term in common usage. People should be able to determine for themselves whether the legislation is likely to apply to the particular potentially offending hedge that is worrying them and whether they can properly take forward their complaint to the local authority. Although I indicated in discussion of amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, that the term "barrier" is open to interpretation, that will be mainly at the margins. Most cases will probably be fairly clear cut.
Taking out the reference to the term would also lose us some benefits. We believe that there would be some serious disadvantage if the definition were pared down, in accordance with the amendment, to two or more adjacent evergreens that are more than two metres high. Members of the public and local authorities might have difficulties in interpreting "adjacent". I can see the lawyers having some fun with that terminology. How close do the evergreens need to be in order to be judged to be adjacent? We certainly lose any idea that the evergreens are integrated together to form a single unitthe concept employed by the courts in the classic neighbourhood hedge dispute, Stanton v Jones. These amendments would move us away from the typical hedge towards encompassing individual trees, and therein lies
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