A Bill to extend the powers of environmental health officers enabling them to intervene in disputes between neighbours over hedgerows in residential areas was given an unopposed first reading with all-party support. The EHOs would be able to make binding and enforceable decisions about the height of trees and hedges.
It was introduced by Jim Cunningham, Labour MP for Coventry South, who said: 'We should not dismiss nuisance hedges as a trivial issue. It is a real problem causing suffering to thousands of people. I have received a number of letters from constituents complaining about it. The social and emotional problems described in those letters persuaded me to try to do something.'
Although the Bill did not propose to ban leylandii or any other tree or hedge, the introduction of the leyland cypress had made hedge problems far more widespread. Such hedges could threaten roofs, guttering, drains and even a building's structure. They can deprive unwilling sufferers of light in their homes, and could prevent them using their gardens in ways that they wished to.
Mr Cunningham added: 'Civil law has proved inadequate at dealing with hedge disputes between neighbours. Such actions can drag on for years, bringing further strees to a victim's life. The legal costs can be enormous. The sums involved can threaten life savings, and sometimes even a person's home. The present legl situation forces the victim to plead with his or her neighbours to take action and, basically, to rely on the goodwill of others. The victim has no legal recourse to demand that an offending hedge be shortened or removed. The owner of the tree has the legal upper hand.
'At the moment, environmental health protection officers are reluctant to act. Their legal position is unclear, but the Bill will clarify it. It will allow environmental health officers to make a judgment. It will resolve disputes much more cheaply, easily and quickly, and without half the distress and costs now incurred'.
The Bill is unlikely to progress because of lack of parliamentary time, but it could give a nudge to government - which has published a green paper, High Hedges: Possible Solutions - to introduce its own legislation.