People are still “living in the shadows” because their neighbours' hedges are too high, as the law intended to control them is not being used as effectively as it could be, a Holyrood Committee has reported.
The Local Government & Communities Committee wants Scottish Government guidance on the High Hedges (Scotland) Act 2013 to be tightened so that applications are considered in terms of the impact of the vegetation rather than whether or not the barrier was originally planted as a hedge. Local authorities should also be encouraged to be flexible when considering high hedge applications, while still adhering to their green space strategies.
During evidence sessions, the committee also heard of some extreme cases where neighbours removed every alternate tree in order to avoid a row of trees or shrubs being classed as a high hedge.
Convener Bob Doris said that while there were examples of the Act working well for communities, it was clearly "not currently operating in the full spirit as was intended". Some local authorities, for example, dismissed applications as they deemed a row of trees or shrubs not to be a "hedge" despite the detrimental impact on homeowners.
The committee also wants the cost of the application to be recoverable from the hedge owner where an application has been successful, such that the local authority can reimburse the applicant.
It further calls for consistent data to be collected on the use of the Act to measure whether it is effective in the future, and ministers should take steps to achieve this.
Mr Doris commented: “Our committee heard directly from homeowners across Scotland, and many of them spoke of the serious impact high hedges had on their quality of life. Some even said they felt they were forced to live in the shadows because of hedges blocking natural light to their homes. Quite clearly, if someone’s life is made a misery from blocked out light this must be addressed."