High hedges legislation in Jersey05 Jul 2010
The High Hedges (Jersey) Law 2008 (the "Law") came into force in January 2008, and defines a high hedge as being "so much of a barrier to light as….formed…. by a line of two or more evergreens….and a height of more than 2 metres above ground level". The Law is specifically designed to deal with the problems associated with evergreen and semi-evergreen trees and shrubs; it does not deal with the roots of high hedges, single trees or shrubs (whether evergreen or not), or deciduous hedges.
Although a hedge can form an ideal garden boundary, provide shelter from the wind, privacy, security, food and shelter for wildlife and generally endure for longer than fencing, when the wrong type of hedge is planted in a residential area, it can cause a range of problems, particularly, when it grows too big.
The Law was designed to assist residential neighbours to resolve disputes relating to hedges in cases where they have failed to reach agreement between themselves. It has not made it a criminal offence to have a high hedge, but merely provides a tool to assist in finding a solution where a high hedge is causing a problem between neighbours and, as between themselves, they have reached deadlock.
Any complaint about a high hedge should be made to the Minister of Planning and Environment (the "Minister"). A complainant will need to provide proof of all previous attempts at settlement of the dispute (for example, copies of letters between the neighbours and other relevant documentation), and pay a fee (currently £350). The fee goes towards the expense that the Minister will incur in visiting the site of the hedge in order to carry out a survey and assessment of any privacy and other relevant issues. The fee is non-recoverable, even where the complainant is successful. The fee is intended to encourage disputing parties to resolve the issues between themselves and, also, to prevent frivolous complaints.
The timetable from the making of a complaint to resolution is likely to be around 12 weeks. Where it appears that reasonable steps to resolve the dispute between the parties have not been taken, the Minister is likely to reject the complaint. In any case where the Minister considers that a complaint is not justified, he will notify the complainant of this. An aggrieved complainant then has a period of 28 days in which to appeal the Minister's decision to the Royal Court.
The factors that the Minister will take into account when assessing a dispute will include: whether the hedge was in existence at the time when the complainant acquired the property; issues relating to privacy and amenity of the neighbourhood; and loss of light. Where the Minister concludes that a hedge is too high, a typical order is likely to be that it be cut and maintained to no more than a certain height, which will provide privacy to both neighbours and ensure that there is no loss of light to either property.
The loss of light, rather than simply the height of a hedge, is a key factor to be established before a claim is likely to be successful. There is nothing in the Law relating to the loss of a view. Where there are gaps present in a row of evergreens, such that it does not form a
barrier to light, such a hedge is unlikely to be deemed to cause loss of light. The Minister will also take into account other relevant factors, including for example, any relevant nesting season or a period during which works to a hedge might cause long term damage to it.
Where a complaint is successful, the Minister will notify all parties as to what needs to be done in order to remedy the problem. This "remedial notice" will provide for a specified time limit within which any necessary works must be carried out. It is a criminal offence not to carry out the works specified in a remedial notice within the prescribed time limit, punishable by a fine of up to £2,000. The remedial notice may also specify what needs to be done in order to prevent a recurrence of the problem. Remedial notices may be appealed to the Royal Court.
Where a remedial notice is not complied with, the Minister will give seven days' notice to the owner of the hedge in question, that authorised persons will enter the property in order to undertake the works specified in the remedial notice. The Minister will recover the costs of taking this action from the owner of the hedge. If the owner obstructs the undertaking of works authorised by the Minister, he could be liable to pay a fine of up to £5,000.