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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I have listened to the debate on the amendments with interest. I welcome the change in definition, but I have great sympathy with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Methuen. I get a lot of letters about deciduous trees. The only reason why I do not support his amendment, which I hope he will withdraw, is because at one of the meetings where we consulted with the department and went into the matter in great detail, it was pointed out to me that the consultative document High Hedges: Possible Solutions was focused on evergreens and the 3,000 responses that were received—a very large number—were on evergreens. I accept the Government's view that there has not been adequate consultation on this yet.

I would like to read out a point made in a letter to me from someone who suffers from an alder hedge. He is a notary public and writes splendid letters. On when the Bill will become law, he says:

he gives its botanical name—

    "'plus one further sapling for every two linear metres of your hedgeline. Plant them two metres apart and by the time your local authority gets round to requiring you to trim your evergreen hedge back to two metres in height, your alders will almost certainly exceed two metres and from then on will grow about a further metre each year and will very effectively block your neighbour's sunlight with complete immunity from the law'".

This is quite fascinating. Who knows whether that might not become the habit? The Minister gave the odds of complaints about evergreens as against deciduous trees as about 100 to 1. It might be that once we have solved the evergreen problem, deciduous trees become the major problem. I believe that the Government have answered that by bringing forward Amendment No. 20, which will give them the power, if that proves to be the case, to deal with it at that time. For that reason, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, not to press his amendment today.

Lord Methuen: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments. The assurance I sought will be covered in Clause 16 as a result of his amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 6, as an amendment to Amendment No. 5, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 5 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

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Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendments Nos. 8 and 9:

    Page 2, line 15, after "shrub" insert "or semi-evergreen tree or shrub"

    Page 2, line 16, leave out from "is" to end of line 18 and insert "not to be regarded as forming a barrier to light or access if the existence of gaps significantly affects its overall effect as such a barrier at heights of more than two metres above ground level."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 4 [Procedure for dealing with complaints]:

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendments Nos. 10 and 11:

    Page 3, line 2, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—

"(a) whether the height of the high hedge specified in the complaint is adversely affecting the complainant's reasonable enjoyment of the domestic property so specified; and" Page 3, line 7, leave out "any such obstruction" and insert "the adverse effect"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 5 [Remedial notices]:

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendments Nos. 12 to 14:

    Page 4, line 9, leave out from second "that" to end of line 11 and insert "the height of that hedge is adversely affecting the complainant's reasonable enjoyment of the domestic property specified in the notice;"

    Page 4, line 13, leave out "any such obstruction" and insert "the adverse effect"

    Page 4, line 17, leave out "any such obstruction" and insert "an adverse effect"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved Amendment No. 15:

    Page 4, line 25, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have tabled this amendment for consideration today for two reasons.

First, I have had many letters since Committee stage stating that nothing will help the writer but complete removal of the neighbour's hedge. Secondly, others have sought clarification about what they are entitled to do with their own hedge, more especially if they are in a conservation area.

I am unable to judge whether those who have written in support of total removal are correct in what they say, and, indeed, that only the council officers who attend would be able to assess the position. However, I note that the Bill rules out any possibility of the council ordering a hedge to be removed. I ask why we should take away the council's discretion in this matter. Surely we should leave open as many options as possible to resolve these situations.

On the second point, I am now convinced that a number of people are more than willing to undertake controlling their own hedges, but wonder what technical procedures are involved and whether, if they are in a conservation area, they would need to make a full planning application.

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It would be most helpful if the Minister could explain the Government's view on these points and, at the same time, reconfirm that none of the amendments before the House today would alter the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on 9th January, when he quoted Section 198(6)(b) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and stated that,

    "remedial notices served, or issued, under this Bill would automatically override the requirements of a tree preservation order".—[Official Report, 9/1/03; col. 1159.]

I beg to move.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, through Amendment No. 15, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, queries why local authorities cannot require removal of a high hedge. On the face of it, that would seem to solve the problem once and for all.

In terms of the action to be taken in relation to the hedge, the remedial notice must specify what is required to remedy the adverse effects of the hedge, or to prevent them recurring—and no more. Bearing in mind that complaints cannot be brought under the Bill against two-metre-high hedges, then it would be inconsistent for the remedy to require a hedge to be cut back or removed beyond this point.

Implicitly the Bill is saying to people that hedges can be grown to two metres without them having any adverse effect on neighbours. Reducing the height of the hedge below this limit or removing it entirely would, therefore, go beyond what was necessary to remedy the adverse effects of the hedge.

In all these circumstances, the Government believe that requiring removal of a high hedge would represent a disproportionate response to the problem. Nevertheless, it, of course, remains open to the owner of the hedge to go further than the remedial notice requires, and to remove the hedge entirely, if they want.

The noble Baroness also used this opportunity to raise concerns about the interaction between her Bill and the Town and Country Planning Act controls on trees in conservation areas. As she suggested, there is a good deal of confusion about what powers local planning authorities can exercise over trees in conservation areas. I hope that explaining how the controls should operate might be helpful both to her and to others outside this House.

Under Section 211 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, anyone proposing to cut down, uproot, top or lop a tree with a diameter of 75 millimetres or more in a conservation area is required to give the local planning authority six weeks' prior notice. The purpose of this requirement is to give the authority an opportunity to consider whether a tree preservation order should be made in respect of the tree.

The local planning authority cannot refuse consent to the works. Nor can it grant consent subject to conditions—such as a specific height at which the hedge should be maintained. Its only response, legally,

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is to make a tree preservation order and so, in effect, call in the application for more detailed consideration under the terms of the order.

As I said earlier, these controls apply to certain works and to certain trees. In the Government's view, minor trimming of a well-kept hedge as part of normal annual maintenance is unlikely to constitute topping or lopping and so should not require prior notification to the local planning authority. The legislation governing trees in conservation areas should not, therefore, prevent owners from actively managing their hedges and keeping them in trim.

Works to renovate a neglected hedge might, however, be subject to these controls. As my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton said in Committee, we hope that local authorities will look favourably on such notifications.

I also repeat the undertaking he gave that, when we next update the relevant regulations, we shall consider including provision to exempt from the requirement to notify the local planning authority the topping or lopping of evergreen hedges as part of normal management.

Finally, I should make clear that works to trees in conservation areas required under a remedial notice would automatically enjoy such an exemption. The controls do not apply where the cutting down, uprooting, topping or lopping of any trees is in compliance with obligations imposed by or under an Act of Parliament.

I hope that the explanations and assurances that I have given are helpful and that they are sufficient to enable the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

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