High Hedges Bill: Further Consideration Stage (Assembly)

High Hedges Bill: Further Consideration by Brian Wilson Green Party MLANorthern Ireland Assembly, Monday 07 March 2011

I welcome the amendment. High hedges and trees have been a major issue in my constituency. As a member of North Down Borough Council, I have dealt with many such cases over the past 30 years. Indeed, I was involved in drawing up a number of my constituents’ responses to Lord Rooker’s consultation, and I know for a fact that some of the respondents were referring to high trees rather than hedges.

Peter Weir (DUP)

I am not in any way questioning the fact that single trees need to be discussed. However, does the Member not accept that, if made, the amendment will limit the scope of any report and that we should instead be looking at the implementation of the entire Bill? Would that not be a better way forward than simply having a single report that deals with one specific issue relatively soon in the term of a new Assembly? We should try to get it right for all constituents

Brian Wilson (Green)

I accept the Member’s point, but I do not agree with it.

The Assembly is giving a lot of time to discussion of this legislation. I doubt whether the next Assembly will revisit the issue unless there is an obligation in existing legislation. I am not sure where we are going. I would prefer to deal with the issues of light and the amenity of a garden. Discussing roots and so on makes it a totally different issue that has no place in the Bill.

Many of my constituents have been unable to enjoy their gardens because of inconsiderate neighbours who are unwilling to reduce their hedges. People have become aware of this legislation in recent months. People have asked me about the precise detail of the legislation and when it will be implemented, yet it is clear that the legislation will not cover those people’s cases. The legislation does not go far enough. Most people expected the legislation to resolve issues that have been around for 20 years; they thought that the High Hedges Bill would resolve problems that they have with their neighbours. In fact, it will not resolve problems in most cases, and those people will be very disappointed. We are building up expectations.

High hedges are not the only issue, as they often incorporate high trees as well. Many people’s problems relate to individual trees and their impact on light. Therefore, it is important that we look at the question of individual trees and groups of trees in respect of light and amenity but not in respect of the wider issues that other Members raised. I certainly do not approve of felling trees in normal circumstances. However, there are certain circumstances in which individual trees, such as leylandii, can be removed without causing environmental damage. In other cases, trees are protected by tree preservation orders or by being an integral part of an area of townscape character or a conservation area. Nothing should be done to those trees.

We have to look at the problems; for example, councils should monitor complaints. One of the things that came out of the report is that most councils have no idea of the number of complaints because they do not keep a record of them. Councils do not distinguish between trees and high hedges. The amendment asks that we find out the extent of the problem.

Alastair Ross (DUP)

How does the Member expect that information to be collated? I am still unsure about that.

Brian Wilson (Green)

If people tell a council that they have a problem, the council should keep a record of it.

Peter Weir (DUP)

Given that single trees are outside the scope of the legislation, a complaint about a single tree will not be acted on. Why would someone ask a council to do something that they know to be outside the scope of what a council can take action on? We would not get a full picture.

Brian Wilson (Green)

People go to councils already. I am aware of people coming to North Down Borough Council with a problem and the council saying that it can do nothing about it. With the passing of the High Hedges Bill, people will become much more aware of the legislation. They will ask a council whether a particular problem is covered by the high hedges legislation, and the council will have a record. There is no intention of going out and doing a census that looks at every tree. Basically, if constituents have a problem with a particular tree, they would approach the council.

There are a number of other issues around high trees. Obviously, a blanket view on cutting down trees is absurd and totally unacceptable. It is important that we consider the issue further and support thisamendment. That will help us revisit the issue, because, if we have no obligation to follow this up, the next Assembly will probably let the matter go.

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