Hedges and trees overgrowing footpaths and roads

As well as Planning Objections and Riparian Rights, overgrowing shrubs/hedges and trees over the public footpath and roads appear to be another problem residents have experienced and what are the issues and who is responsible for maintenance. Main concerns are:

  • The issues appear to be danger to the public trying to walk on the footpath, especially with a child or pushchair.
  • Danger to vehicle of a branch falling into the road, possibly hitting a moving vehicle and causing an accident.

So who is responsible for the maintenance of these features of our community and what can be done to ensure that they are properly maintained for the enjoyment and safety of everyone and to ensure the Ward does not become overgrown and not as attractive as it could be.

 The main statutory act is the Highways Act 1980 Section 154, here it states:

  1. "Where a hedge, tree or shrub overhangs a highway or any other road or footpath to which the public has access so as to endanger or obstruct the passage of vehicles or pedestrians or obstructs or interferes with the view of drivers or the light from a public lamp or overhangs a highway so as to endanger or obstruct the passage of horse-riders. A competent authority may, by notice either to the owner of the hedge, tree or shrub or to the occupier of the land on which it is growing, require him within 14 days from date of service of the notice so to top or cut it as to remove the cause of danger, obstruction or interference" [Highways Act 1980 Section 154].

 In relation to a highway which the Local Authority is responsible then the phrase “A competent authority” is the Highways Authority (in the case of Thorpe Ward this is Surrey County Council Highways Dept.).

In relation to a road or footpath that is not a highway then the phrase “A competent authority” is the local authority in whose area the road or footpath is situated (in the case of Thorpe Ward this is Surrey County Council Highways Dept.).

  1. Subject to any order made on appeal, if a person on whom a notice is served under subsection (1) above fails to comply with it within the period specified in those subsection, the authority who served the notice may carry out the work required by the notice and recover the expenses reasonably incurred by them in so doing from the person in default.

The Highways Act 1980 doesn’t specify any actual measurement for overhanging vegetation, the requirement should be met by: -

  • For pedestrian areas, minimum headroom of 2.3M (7ft 6 inches)
  • For carriageways and an area immediately adjacent to it, together with bridleways (for a distance of 45cm (1 ft 6 inches) minimum headroom of 5.2m (17ft)

In both cases the vegetation should be cut back vertically.

However trees and hedges should not be touched during the bird nesting season (from mid March to the end of July) Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Hedges should be cut on a two year rotation, for environmental reasons it is not recommended to cut the same hedge every year except where necessary for road safety. The reason for this timing is that most trees and shrubs that form hedges only produce flowers, nuts and berries on year old twigs, therefore cutting them every year would reduce food supplies for incests, birds and mammals.

Before tackling trees which are near a public right of way, first check to ensure there is not a Tree Preservation Order on the tree, you should also check with the Countryside Access Officer (At Surrey County Council) prior to any work.

There are minimum widths of footpaths these can be recorded in the Definitive Statement if so this becomes the minimum width. If no minimum width is recorded then the following min. widths will apply: -

Footpaths :-

  • 1 metre across a field
  • 1.5 metres on the field edge

Bridleways:-

  • 2 metres across the field
  • 3 metres on the field edge

Byways

  • 3 metres across the field
  • 5 metres on the filed edge

Additional sources of Information

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1980/66/section154?view

https://www.gardeningdata.co.uk/shrubs/hedges_and_roads/hedges

https:www.surrey.gov.uk/roads-and-transport/roadworks-and-maintenance/trees-grass-and-hedges/hedges

http://www.surrey.gov.uk/land-planning-and-development/countryside/footpaths-byways-and-bridleways/rights-of-way/vegetation-trees-and-crops