High Hedges Bill: Consideration Stage (Assembly)

High Hedges Bill by Brian Wilson Green Party MLANorthern Ireland Assembly, 21 February 2011

I too welcome the legislation. High hedges are a very common problem in North Down. In fact, I have been involved in a number of disputes — [Laughter.] Sorry, I have been involved in trying to resolve a number of disputes between neighbours. They are extremely difficult and some people are particularly unreasonable about it. However, in relation to amendment No 1, councils should retain their discretion to charge fees. That should be based on the cost to the council. However, I also believe that there should be a maximum level. As the Chairperson pointed out, the average fee in England is between £300 and £400. Councils can, by discretion, charge nothing. Charges can be up to £650. That fee is totally unacceptable. Basically, the Department should set a maximum fee.

Initially, when I saw amendment Nos 3 and 4, I intended to oppose them. It should not be an offence when a person simply grows a hedge that someone else complains about, and for which the person could then be penalised. However, having dealt with people who are involved in such disputes and with people who are being totally unreasonable, I believe that if parties have undergone some sort of mediation and someone is clearly acting unreasonably, and the complaint has not been made simply to be malicious or vexatious, that person should face a penalty. Therefore, I accept the amendments, which provide for situations when mediation has already been tried and someone has acted unreasonably.

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