Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Good legislation makes good neighbours? Planning Resource announces a Scottish government consultation about hedge disputes, in an article by Matt Scotland (who else?). The consultation follows the efforts of a campaign group called Scothedge, which offers this report on a recent (July 2009) survey of its members. Question 1. Approach to the Hedge Owner. All respondents have asked the hedge owner to sort the problem. Question 2. Response from the Hedge Owner Helpful 5% Unhelpful 55% Hostile 38% Comment. The helpful responses came from cases where the problem was overcome by the arrival of new neighbours. 55% of respondents could take their cases no further because the hedge/tree owner would not do anything. A serious 38% were hostile to any approach, resorting to verbal and even physical abuse sometimes requiring police intervention. This is the Antisocial Behaviour dimension and it occurs because it can. Question 9. Do you still speak to your neighbour? 40% of respondents remain able to speak to their neighbours whilst in dispute. 60% find speaking to their neighbours both unproductive and unpleasant. Understandably they withdraw from making any further attempt. The report blames the absence of appropriate legislation in Scotland, claiming that 'there is no vehicle for “arms length” resolution which would dilute the personality and vested interests of the protagonists.' The expectation is that if there is legislation, it will have a fairly direct impact on neighbourly relations, in that a hostile response by a neighbour to a representation about a tree or hedge could quickly be referred to a council with all parties aware of the available powers. Would legislation eradicate much of the hostility and contribute to improved neighbourly relations? The classic source here is a book called Order without law, by Robert Ellickson. Ellickson explored the preference among rural neighbours for informal procedures and customs rather than legal measures to govern minor irritations such as cattle-trespass or boundary-fence disputes. I suspect this points to subtle differences in urban areas where local norms and informal interactions are not well-established but other compensating social relations are readily available.

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