Earlier this week, the Parliament debated proposals for a new law to settle disputes over high hedges.
The issue of high hedges is one that has caused friction between neighbours across the country for many years and this legislation is an attempt to address the current situation.
For the purposes of the bill, high hedges have been defined as being formed from two or more evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs, rising to a height of over two metres and forming a barrier to light.
Such hedges can cause significant disruption to neighbouring properties and the work of campaign group Scothedge has helped to highlight these issues. The main disruptive effects of high hedges include loss of light, potential damage to property, the loss of views, the risk of subsidence and disruption to TV signals.
The proposed new laws would allow a neighbour to apply to the council for a high hedge notice. The council would then consider the application and, if appropriate, issue the notice to the owner of the hedge specifying what work they must carry out to address the problem.
The bill must strike the right balance between protecting residents from the negative impacts of high hedges while recognising the importance of well-maintained ones. Hedges provide a range of benefits from providing shelter and privacy to properties and promoting biodiversity and improving the local environment.
At this early stage of the bill, the debate was about covering the general principles and while I agree with the ultimate aim of the bill, I was keen to highlight issues that campaigners still have over the specific detail of the proposals.
One of the most crucial issues will be the definition of what constitutes a high hedge with campaigners keen to see the narrow focus of the bill widened to include deciduous hedges and trees. The issue of administrative costs and the potentially negative impact on biodiversity has to be considered alongside the experiences of residents who’ve experienced problems.
Another area that I will be following closely is whether the Scottish Government will provide a central tree officer who could provide particular expertise to local authorities to assist with the implementation of the bill. It’s expected that the first five years after the bill is brought into force will be busy with the backlog of disputes being addressed. A central resource would therefore be hugely cost-effective for local authorities to be able to draw on.
Overall, this week’s debate was a consensual affair. However, while there is a will across the chamber to find a solution, I am encouraging the lead committee on the bill to take its time in discussing the issues that still remain to ensure that we arrive at the right solution.
You can view my opening speech in the debate at 24.40 in the video above. My closing speech can be viewed at 1:10.30.