High Hedges. The other side of the Fence

High Hedges. The other side of the Fence

Postby sonicbear » Fri Apr 29, 2011 7:57 pm

110428 Garden Law Brief
Hello all! New to this site so hope I keep to the rules.
My problem is from the other side of the fence (hedge), pun intended!
To set the scene – I am now retired and live on a smallholding in a rural area with other smallholdings and farms here and there. I bought the place as ‘an area of land with a derelict cottage’ in 1973 and immediately set about improving the land with landscaping and planting more than a thousand trees and shrubs. I kept typical smallholding animals for many years whilst renovating the cottage.
In 1984 new neighbours (by inheritance) moved in to a house on the opposite side of the road, 12M from my northern boundary.
For whatever reason, they stuck their noses in the air and apparently considered themselves above us yokels. HE set about trying to establishing himself as ‘Lord of the Manor’, but became as they would say locally a ‘ Ffarmwr Drama’ (land but no cattle ie. playing at being a farmer). SHE got herself a posh horse and tried, unsuccessfully, to integrate with other local horsey owners.
Thru the years, this couple have made a series of official complaints about my property and me to the Council, the Community Council and the Police – none of which have been upheld or acted upon. They have made a point of totally ignoring me (in fact, turning to face the other direction when they see me on the road). I decided that if they want to act like spoilt pi***cks, that’s up to them, it doesn’t worry me. I am still at a loss as to what has motivated their hate campaign. Maybe one day some hidden agenda will come to light.
That is until 2006, when these neighbours (who live but a hop, skip and a widdle away), out of the blue, sent a curt recorded letter to me (arriving 2nd Feb 2006) demanding that I cut down 80M of my northern boundary hedge to ‘the legal 2M level’. That my hedge was causing an - ‘unreasonable adverse effect on the enjoyment of their property’. I was given 4 weeks to carry out the work.
I had not a clue what they were on about. My solicitor eventually managed to dig out the 2005 ASBO Act and the High Hedges Pt.8 section. The day after (not even the Guidance Notes obligatory 4weeks) I had received the recorded letter, these neighbours made an official complaint to the Planning Dept of the Council. The date of the complaint and cheque is the 3rd Feb. This was then the tenth official complaint (but whose counting?) - other than complaints to the Community Council and slanderous claims to other locals (a long story).

The Guidance notes on High Hedges state that if there is a complaint with a hedge height, the first thing is to discuss the problem with the neighbour. Next there is arbitration. If that and all else fails, THEN, AND ONLY THEN, SHOULD THE PROBLEM BE TAKEN TO THE COUNCIL! They did none of this. Probably considered themselves above such matters.
I next received a letter from these complainers (apparently on the Councils advice) telling me the Council had taken over the matter, and naming the head of Planning. The Council had accepted the complaint.
I gather from letters and other subsequent communications from various bodies enmeshed in this matter that this couple had held discussions with the Planning Dept of the Council as far back as October of 2005 and had persuaded the Planning that I was ‘unapproachable’ and that they needed help. (Out and out lies as they have never tried to approach me about anything)
The advice given to these whingers it seems was - to write me a letter, and if I didn’t reply, Planning would - ‘sort me out’ (a phrase used by the man when I tried to negotiate directly on the 30th May). Over the next few months, I tried thru my solicitor and thru a land agent to negotiate a settlement that was within the limitations of Part 8 of the ASBO Act. - NOT THE REDICULOUS DEMAND of CUTTING DOWN AN 80M LENGTH of HEDGING to 2M.
I did try to talk to them –‘over the garden wall’ - and explain the limitations of the Act. The man complainer said he was not a lawyer and had no intention of acquainting himself with the details of the legislation; he was not going to negotiate with me. That the Council had the matter in hand and was - ‘going to sort me out’.
The Council was sending me letters containing threats of visits, official intervention and pressure to settle the matter. And even knowing that these people were refusing to negotiate from the start, told me I SHOULD APPROACH THEM. I did do that, but the previous paragraph précises that meeting.
I gave up trying to reason with the unreasonable, studied Pt 8 of the Act myself and employed two tree fellers (sic) to take down some 40M of the Monterey trees to a lower level.
The Council still threatened to carry out a site inspection despite the work done and that - ‘any further reduction would be injurious to the trees’. They claim to have made a site visit and sent a letter thanking me for allowing them on the site. That itself was a lie as they never did actually call at the appointed time and I had the drive camera on all day. Very dubious actions!
The noxious neighbour said he was still not satisfied with the ‘minor trimming’ (a full day’s work and actually over 4M taken off).

The Council report did not surface until 10th Oct 2010. However, it did advise that I, as owner of the trees, ‘had made reasonable and ongoing steps to retain the hedge height to, or below the actionable hedge height’. No Remedial Action was issued.
That report apparently enraged these disagreeable neighbours and they went for an Appeal to the Planning Inspectorate in Cardiff.

It is apparent, from the Planning Dept asking the Inspectorate - on behalf of the complainants, that the Inspectorate delay the Hearing date because of the 2010 Christmas period - that the Planning was, and is, still fully in touch and colluding with the Complainants. More to save face now I fear.
I had also noted in my responses to the Council in Aug 2006 that the High Hedges calculations apply to rooms that are used as main rooms ie. Lounge, Kitchen etc, other rooms are of less importance.
Within 2wks of that letter, the rooms with windows on the south side of the house, opposite the hedge in question, that were previously unused by the Complainants, because, in the words of the male Complainant, they were too near the road with dust and noise, suddenly had lights at night, thereby demonstrating that they were used rooms.
I had however noted, and have proof, that the Complainants were using westerly facing rooms for the TV lounge and diner. That although the lights were on in the south rooms, there was nobody using them. I noted this to the Inspectorate and Council in January 2011.
Within 2weeks of the February Appeal hearing this year, the television was moved out of the west room and into the south facing one. The female Complainant claimed at the Hearing that the two south rooms were used as the lounge and diner. The other larger, more open rooms and the conservatory that had been used since at least 1997, were closed down at night.
A very effective but highly deceitful Machiavellian strategy. But again, further proof that the Inspectorate was advising the Council Planning Dept who were directly advising the Complainants
At the Hearing, the male Complainant was asked why he thought the Councils recommendations were ‘light weight’, and did he have any alternative calculations. True to his previous statement that he was – ‘not a lawyer and had no intention of acquainting himself with the details of the legislation’, he had none. All he observed was that he found my boundary trees “oppressive”, and wanted them cut down. The Inspector informed him that medical ‘depression’ could not be used as a reason to cut down trees.
The man also complained about my northern boundary windbreak fencing which he found to be untidy. Nothing to do with the trees in question - as were other complaints about -‘same variety unkempt vegetation’ (not true) - on the rest of my property. I noticed his wife slap his jacket and shush him as he was complaining.
To confirm my judgment that this person was mentally disturbed, I recall that I had heard, thru his now-deceased mother in 1995 or 96?? when she was in hospital, that this man, her son, had been permanently pensioned off thru ‘stress’ from his civil service teaching job back in 1986.
It is apparent, that this male Complainant in particular, is suffering from a neurological condition. His hedges are all cut down, by contractors, to a very low level to give him the open space his mind tells him he needs. He has had mature trees near his house either demolished completely or pollarded to the extreme. He does not farm, but rents out the land. He drives around in an off-road 4x4 to be like real farmers. Hence the ‘Ffarmwr Drama’.
The Complainants wife is fully supportive of his actions but I think perhaps (after falling on her head from her horse), she too is suffering from, a degree of neurosis.

The Planning Inspectorate, now some three months on, has still not come back with their conclusions – despite promises, in March, of a report – ‘soon’. I think that it has been realised just what skulduggery has been perpetrated, Planning is in deep, and they do not know the best way to play it.

I have had enough. I have taken complaint after complaint, turned the other cheek and not retaliated.
Something has to be done.
What I need is advice and perhaps a lawyer who is well versed in the ins-and-outs of part 8 of the ASBO Act.
- One who can take on the Planning Department for their very partisan, pressuring and bullying involvement. And their decision to ignore the Guidance notes and make up their own procedures. Who will prove that the Planning have abused and exceeded their given authority.
- One who can take on the Planning Inspectorate without frightening them into coming up with a negative response.
- One who can initiate injunctions and perhaps seek compensation for the very real damage, hassle and anxiety this Planning Dept, these toxic neighbours and just one of their conniving acquaintances have caused me over the years.
sonicbear
 
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Re: High Hedges. The other side of the Fence

Postby despair » Fri Apr 29, 2011 8:11 pm

I suggest you contact both Treeman and To by PM system on this forum

I am sure they will be only too happy to assist
despair
 
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Re: High Hedges. The other side of the Fence

Postby span » Fri Apr 29, 2011 8:15 pm

Welcome to GL, sonicbear. Excellent first post, I thoroughly enjoyed your writing style.

As to what can be done, or what you can do - why bother doing anything different? You seem to have a grasp of the situation. Anything he's done you've shrugged off, and it's clearly irked and annoyed him further. Keep on living you own life in your own manner. It's the best revenge of all.
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Re: High Hedges. The other side of the Fence

Postby TO » Sat Apr 30, 2011 1:47 pm

Hi Sonicbear

What exactly do you want advice on.

Regards the rest of the post I have a few comments to make, and as this is about a high hedge I'll ignore all the other stuff.

Guidance is guidance, it is not obligatory that it is followed however, the Local Authority should set out their reasoning for deviating. It's not unusual for warring neighbours not to be on speaking terms, so communications to resolve the hedge problem will have to be made by letter. Mediation will only happen if both parties want it to work and are prepared to accept the outcome, it's not obligatory just another option. The Local Authority will have to make a judgement on whether or not to proceed with a complaint on the basis of the information before them. At the very start this is invariably only from the complainant, and therefore one-sided. From what you say I suspect that your neighbours went straight to the Local Authority with the complaint. They were told to try and sort it out, they replied that you were not on speaking terms, so were told to write, send it recorded and keep copies. All good advice that you will find repeated on many posts/replies on this site.

Site visits are an important and necessary part of the process. They allow the investigating Officer the opportunity to see the hedge and get a better understanding of the various issues of both parties at first hand. Although why they would expect you to approach your neighbour is beyond me, after all it's not your complaint. Just keep records of all your attempts to resolve the matter, dates, times, what was said, what was the outcome etc. That they carried out the site visit unaccompanied is a surprise, and shouldn't have happened unless agreed between the parties.

There is no time limit by which the Local Authority have to issue a decision, and this will be dependent on work load where there are time limits, and time limits that affect income, so it is not surprising that high hedge complaints take a bit of a back seat. This will only get worse as staff numbers are reduced, and priorities are all about income and not service. As the outcome of your neighbours complaint didn't suit them they are perfectly entitled to appeal the Local Authorities decision.

It's not unusual for either party to ask the Local Authority to approach the Planning Inspectorate on their behalf to rearrange dates, times etc, some people are a little shy. It is not the case that collusion will be taking place, firstly the Planning Inspectorate are ferociously impartial, and will care not one jot for any Local Authority mistakes, neither will they be swayed by the appellants attempts to swing things in their favour. They will correct any mistakes and issue what they consider to be the correct decision. As for collusion, high hedge complaints are dealt with in an open and transparent manner. All correspondence etc is copied to all parties, being open and transparent is not collusion but integral to the process ensuring all the parties involved have access to all the facts and, if questions are asked, they will be answered.

As with the Local Authority the Planning Inspectorate does not have a set time in which to deliver a decision, as is the case with other appeal process's, so once again high hedge appeals are at the bottom of the pile.

So, your neighbour made a high hedge complaint, it was dismissed by the Local Authority, i.e. decision in your favour, so why is it you think they are in deep.

So back to the start
sonicbear wrote:What I need is advice
Advice about what?

sonicbear wrote:a lawyer who is well versed in the ins-and-outs of part 8 of the ASBO Act.
You don't see many of them about, but I'm sure you'll find one who is willing to swot up.

sonicbear wrote:One who can take on the Planning Department for their very partisan, pressuring and bullying involvement. And their decision to ignore the Guidance notes and make up their own procedures. Who will prove that the Planning have abused and exceeded their given authority.
And, who at the end of it all decided the high hedge complaint in your favour.

sonicbear wrote:- One who can take on the Planning Inspectorate without frightening them into coming up with a negative response
I'd wait and see what their response is first. Usually it goes with the Local Authority. But it's not a lawyer you will need to take on the Planning Inspectorate but a QC, a visit to the High Court, and deep pockets. As for frightening them, don't worry, you won't.

TO
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