The following submission was made to Mr. John Rimington MHK in relation to a proposed Private Member's Bill in relation to the problem of "High Hedges". His original explanatory document can be obtained by contacting him personally. Date: 30-06-03

Consultation Document - High Hedges

The Executive Committee of Mec Vannin have considered this document and wish to make the following observations:

1. Whereas there may be valid arguments arising out of any discussion in England, this is equally true of any other jurisdiction and the presumption that any law passed in the Isle of Man will be or should be based upon an English Law is completely without rationale, though certainly not without precedent. Any arising legislation need not model itself in any way on any other legislation.

2. The question of any distinction between fences, hedges and  naturally sown plants, shrubs, bushes and trees was considered. Currently, we understand that planning permission is required for any fence or partition above 2m in height. No such restrictions apply to hedges even if artificially sown. It is believed that the distinction should remain between an artificial boundary partition or screen and one made of live, growing plants etc.

3. The term property in this instance refers to the domestic curtilage of a dwelling. Although not representing a problem as such, agricultural and other open space may require different treatment.

4. As matters currently stand, some properties may also be able to claim the Right of Light in certain instances.

5. The argument has been used time and again in Planning Applications that "no-one can own a view". From this, it is implicit that there is no intrinsic right to look across another person's property.

6. Given that a single large tree could be every bit as contentious as a hedge, and that a definition of a hedge could itself be difficult, it was decided to treat the matter of plants in their entirety.

7. Whereas understanding the intent of the proposed Act, it was quickly seen that the varying circumstances that could and should not  be deemed a problem could lead to a massively cumbersome piece of legislation. This, in turn, led the Committee to the conclusion that what was required was a clear, easily interpreted piece of legislation to determine the maximum height of any plant permissible on a given property, with the facility to seek planning permission where it is desired to exceed the stipulated maxima.

8. This in turn pointed to three essential criteria for consideration:

a) that any hedge be effective in providing privacy for the owner.
b) that any hedge or plant should not unduly starve or obstruct light to a neighbouring dwelling.
c) that any hedge or plant should not unduly deprive a neighbouring property of light.

(a) is a primary consideration and to this end it is believed that any hedge or similar planted on or within 1m of the property boundary can reach 2m in height without consideration to any other condition.

(b) is a function of height and distance from a window. The direction of view for this purpose should be perpendicular to any window on a neighbouring property and at an elevation of 30 degrees from the horizontal. Any hedge visible above 30 degrees elevation from the horizontal line of sight perpendicular to the window would be too high excepting that it satisfies criterion (a). By way of example: Two neighbouring dwellings are built on level ground and a window of one overlooks (perpendicular to the window) a hedge on the neighbouring property. The window pane's lower edge is 1.5m above ground level. The hedge is 4m from the window. The resulting maximum hedge height would be 3.8m

(c) the hedge should not cast a shadow extending more than 2m onto an adjoining property at the summer solstice noon. Using nominal figures, this resulted in a maximum height of 3.5m when planted on the boundary.

10. In this, hedge is used to mean any plant, shrub, bush or tree whether artificially or naturally sown. Adjoining property does not include any public space, highway, alleyway, lane, footpath or similar. Orientation relative to the sun has not been considered since one man's northern boundary may be another man's southern boundary. The use of the term visible in (b) must be stressed. Theoretical lines of sight through existing obstructions of any form are not valid. The use of the term dwelling is very intentional. The right of light alluded to should not apply to workplaces or outbuildings.

11. It is realised that there are instances in which it may be desirable to have a hedge that exceeds the heights determined using the above rules. In this case, planning permission should be sought.

12. Policing. No active policing is required or desired: If a neighbour raises no objection to a high hedge then it is, by inference, acceptable until such time as there is an objection from an Interested Party.

13. No persisting rights by inference apply i.e. if a hedge is permitted to grow beyond the stipulated height without objection, then it must still be cut within a stipulated period at the demand of an Interested Party unless Planning Permission has already been obtained. There is no case for abeyance pending a planning decision since any healthy hedge will grow again.

14. Both property owners and Interested Parties should be mindful that in the case of a tree, additional legislation applies to any limbing or felling operation once it has reached a certain stature.

15. An Interested Party is either / or an occupant or property owner affected by a high hedge.

16. In a disputed case, a DLGE or Local Authority Building Inspector may initially make a ruling but either Party may seek a second opinion, cost to be borne by the unsuccessful Party.

17. If legislation is produced, the opportunity should be taken to re-affirm the rights of property owners / occupiers to trim / limb overhanging growth.

18. If specific recourse is not currently available to property owners whose buildings, walls, fences etc. are suffering or are in danger of suffering damage by growth on adjoining property, then that should also be included in any new legislation.

It is believed that the forgoing principles are both effective and easy to write into legislation. A great deal of latitude is afforded whilst providing effective recourse where real problems occur.

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