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Trimming in the garden

Overhanging? When trees attack…

With the warmer months of the year upon us, you need to keep an eye on the growth of your trees, hedges and shrubs in case they overhang a pavement or road. As the plants sprout forth, the number of complaints shoots up.

Ealing Council has the power to demand someone removes or cuts back any vegetation that is obstructing, or endangering, pedestrians on footpaths or drivers on roads.

Trees and hedges are the responsibility of the owner of the land they stand on, and the owner has a legal obligation to keep them from encroaching in this way.

It is generally accepted that the minimum clearance should be the equivalent of allowing a 6ft-tall person holding up an umbrella to walk unimpeded along a footpath, or a double decker bus to travel along a road without hitting any overhanging branches.

Councillor Bassam Mahfouz, cabinet member for transport, environment and leisure, said: “Vegetation overhanging the highway is one of the top enquiries or complaints the council receives each summer. It is all a matter of having consideration for others. If you see your tree, for example, is hanging a long way over your front or back fence, then you know there is a chance its branches could be interfering with others’ right of way. If you don’t deal with it yourself, the council has the power to serve notice to demand you lop or cut it back. If it is not done within 28 days, you then run the risk of the council carrying out the work itself and charging you for it. But there is no need for it to get that far if you just keep an eye on the plants growing on your property.”

What can I report to the council?

If you feel vegetation is causing an obstruction or putting others in danger, you can report it to the council.

From a legal perspective, the landowner is likely to be liable for any obstruction. The council can and will, where circumstances warrant it, demand work is carried out.

These are the kind of problems reported about trees next to roads:

  • It is hindering vehicles or pedestrians
  • It is dead or likely to fall or collapse
  • It is obscuring the line of sight at a road junction
  • It is obstructing streetlights, pelican crossings or road signs.

Residents can report an obstruction or a tree problem online via www.ealing.gov.uk/reportit or by calling customer services on 020 8825 6000.

What happens if my trees are protected?

A protected tree is one that is subject to a preservation order or is growing in a conservation area. But the Highways Act 1980 can supersede this to protect the public from unnecessary hazards. Therefore the council can still demand the minimum amount of pruning required to bring the tree in line with the requirements of the act.

Affected by overhanging from next door?

If you are affected by overhanging trees or bushes you do have a legal right to prune to the boundary of your property only. But you must ensure the tree is not protected by planning legislation and discuss your intentions with the tree owner prior to undertaking the work.

Even then you should proceed with caution because if things go wrong you could potentially be found legally liable for serious damage to the plants, or for trespass if you go beyond your boundary.

Check if a tree has a preservation order, or just find out more, on the council website’s tree pages.

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