Parliamentary Question for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence (Alan Shatter TD)
For WRITTEN ANSWER 15/04/14
To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will consider implementing legislation in relation to the topping and cutting of trees on private property, in particular where such trees are obstructing public footpaths and roads, interfering with rights of access, posing a risk to public safety and or interfering with the supply of public services such as electricity and telephone connections; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The difficulties experienced by property owners arising from trees and high hedges on neighbouring land were raised in both the Dáil and Seanad during passage of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009. My Department consulted on the matter with the Law Reform Commission, which had been involved in drafting the 2009 Act, and the Commission took the view that unreasonable interference caused by high trees or hedges was a matter in any particular case for tort law or more generally for planning or environmental law.
In England and Wales, for example, complaints about high hedges are dealt with under Part 8 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003. This Act makes provision for local authorities to determine complaints by the owners or occupiers of domestic property who are adversely affected by evergreen hedges over 2 metres high. Broadly similar legislation, i.e. the High Hedges Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, came into operation in Northern Ireland on 31 March 2012.
The manner in which problems associated with high hedges and trees are resolved in both England and Wales and Northern Ireland demonstrates a clear preference for the resolution of such disputes at local level, preferably by mediation, with recourse to the courts only as a last resort. This is intended to reduce the risk of prolonged and costly litigation, and the risk that court proceedings could leave a legacy of bitterness between neighbours and ill-feeling in the local community. The introduction of such legislation in this jurisdiction would be a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and his Department.
Under our existing law, a person may be in a position to seek damages or an injunction requiring the cutting of boundary hedges or trees under the tort of nuisance. In order for the nuisance to be actionable, the person concerned would have to show that an easement existed, i.e., whether an easement of light or otherwise, and that there had been a substantial interference with that right.
It is my intention to bring forward a Mediation Bill to promote mediation as a viable, effective and efficient alternative to court proceedings, thereby reducing legal costs and speeding up the resolution of disputes. The legislation, which is currently being drafted, will introduce an obligation on solicitors and barristers to advise any person wishing to commence court proceedings to consider mediation as a means of resolving a dispute before embarking on such proceedings. It will also provide that a court may, following the commencement of proceedings, on its own initiative invite parties to consider mediation and suspend the proceedings to facilitate the mediation process.
I should add that under section 70 of the Roads Act 1993, an owner or occupier of land is required to take all reasonable steps to ensure that trees, shrubs and hedges on that land are not a hazard or potential hazard for a person using a public road. The section also provides that where a tree, shrub or hedge is a hazard, or obstructs the safe use of a public road, a road authority may serve notice on the owner or occupier of the land requiring that action such as the felling, cutting or removal of the tree, hedge or shrub be taken within a stated period.
In addition, section 58 of the Communications Regulation Act 2002 provides that a network operator may, after serving notice on the owner or occupier of the land, lop or cut any tree, shrub which obstructs or interferes with any physical infrastructure of the network operator.