High hedges

The High Hedges (Scotland) Act 2013, offers a possible resolution of last resort to neighbour disputes over high or “nuisance” hedges. For a high hedge to fall within the scope of the Act, it must firstly be a hedge, in the commonly used sense, i.e. a row of trees or shrubs, planted closely together as a boundary between pieces of land or at the sides of a road. Individual trees, shrubs, woodland or forest would, therefore, fall outwith the scope of the Act, unless a row of trees or woodland is growing with the effect of a hedge.

Where the owner or occupier of a domestic property (a house or flat and any associated garden, yard, garage or outbuilding) believes that the reasonable enjoyment of the property any occupant could expect to have is being adversely affected by the height of a high hedge (a hedge comprising a row of 2 or more trees or shrubs that exceeds 2 metres in height and forms a barrier to light), he or she may, by application, ask the Council to serve a High Hedge Notice (HHN) on the owner/occupier of the neighbouring land (the land on which the problem hedge is growing) To help residents determine whether nuisance hedges or rows of trees form a high hedge, as defined in the Act, the Council offers a pre-application inspection service, which provides a non-binding, without prejudice, view as to whether the vegetation constitutes an eligible hedge under the Act. This is intended to assist them in making an informed decision whether it is worthwhile submitting a High Hedge Notice application, thereby enabling them to make such an application with greater confidence it will not be rejected on the basis the disputed vegetation is not a high hedge. This is a chargeable service, the current fee for which is £100.

However, before applying to the Council for the service of a HHN, the Act requires the affected person to have taken "all reasonable steps" to resolve the hedge problem, without success. Neither the Act nor related Scottish Government guidance (see below) prescribes what constitutes "all reasonable steps", leaving it up to each Council to define. As a minimum, South Ayrshire Council will expect all HHN applicants to demonstrate they have done the following, before submitting a HHN application:

  • Approached, to no avail, the owner/occupier of the neighbouring land, in person (or provided specific reasons why they considered it impracticable to do so) and, at least twice, in writing, within the 6 months period preceding the submission of the HHN application;
  • asked the neighbour to participate in mediation through the South Ayrshire Mediation Service; and
  • informed the neighbour of their intention to apply for a HHN.

Download the application for High Hedge Notice (HHN) eplanning form (follow the pathway for paper applications, then select high hedges form)

The Council is entitled to dismiss a HHN application received, if (1) the applicant has not demonstrated that “all reasonable steps” to resolve the hedge dispute have been taken before the submission of the application; or (2) the application is frivolous or vexatious. Applications received in respect of vegetation that is clearly not a hedge or a high hedge will be rejected. There is no right of appeal against the dismissal or rejection of an application.

Applications should be made on the standard application form and will normally attract a fee of £495, which is not refundable should the Council decide to refuse the application. However, following consultation with the South Ayrshire Equality and Diversity Forum, a flat rate, concessionary fee of £100 is now available for applicants who can demonstrate, at the time of submission of a High Hedge Notice application, they are in receipt of a means tested benefit, such as guaranteed pension credit, income support, jobseekers allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, council tax reduction, housing benefit and working tax credits.

Potential applicants should be aware that applications (with the exception of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and signatures) have to be copied, for comment, to the owner/occupier of the land on which the hedge is situated and will be made available in an on-line register of applications.

The Council can refuse a HHN application, on the basis it considers the hedge is not exerting any adverse effect on the applicant’s property or that no action is required. Applicants may appeal a refusal to the Scottish Ministers, who may confirm the decision or quash it, with or without issuing a HHN.

If the Council agrees the hedge is adversely affecting the reasonable enjoyment of the applicant’s property and action is required to remedy the adverse effect, it will serve a HHN on the owner/occupier of the neighbouring land, specifying the initial action required to remedy the adverse effect and any further action needed to prevent a recurrence, together with a timescale for carrying it out. The owner/occupier of the neighbouring land may lodge an appeal against the HHN with the Scottish Ministers, who may confirm, quash or vary the Notice.

View government guidance on the implementation and operation of the Act.

Potential applicants are asked to note the Act applies to the impact of high hedges on domestic property only. It does not deal with the impact of high hedges on non-domestic property or with the width of hedges or overhanging branches (at common law, neighbours are entitled to cut back overhanging branches to the common boundary, provided they offer the clippings to the hedge/tree owner). If it is not a hedge, it cannot be a high hedge and if it is not affecting domestic property, it does not fall within the scope of the Act.