The saga of high garden hedge legislation, or election-discounting devolution for teens…

A year into the new Assembly I argued that it was premature to judge the Assembly on its lack of product. I argued that it would take three years before we could see legislation coming through… Then we might judge… Well, three years on, and well, I suppose we get a bye on water rates, and er, well over Newton Emerson on Hearts and Minds and Ed Poots’, er, high hedge law done the hard way…

In England and Wales, this suburban menace was addressed by the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act. In 2004, Lady Sylvia Hermon asked Westminster to extend the act to Northern Ireland, which under direct rule usually means little more than applying the rubber stamp.

In 2005, the NIO went as far as holding a high hedge consultation exercise, attracting 640 replies. But then it did nothing, because this is precisely the sort of issue that London thinks we should sort out by ourselves.

The chance to do just that came in 2007 with the full restoration of the assembly. Straight away, new DUP environment minister Sammy Wilson examined the high hedge question – and decided it would have to wait until after council reorganisation in 2011, as enforcement will be a local council affair.

But in 2009, Mr Wilson was replaced with Edwin Poots, who vowed to have a law in place before council reorganisation. He raised the issue immediately on assuming office last July, announced a bill last September and put a draft out to consultation two weeks ago.

Somewhere in the middle of this he may also have changed his mind on the need for council reorganisation, but we’ll skip over that to avoid complication.

How can our huge and costly political system take so long and make such a fuss over passing a 15-page local law, little more than a by-law really, that Westminster could have run off the photocopier for us 7 years ago?

Perhaps because that’s the point. Stormont is supposed to work like this, drawing everyone into its labyrinthine structures. It’s not about getting things done, it’s about getting certain people to do them. And what better subject than hedges to show how slowly and neatly our political class has been enclosed.

  • joeCanuck

    Glad to see you lightening up a bit, Mick; you’ve been a wee bit testy sometimes recently.

  • Kevsterino

    Newton Emerson is a very bright, funny fellow.

  • The Raven

    “….he may also have changed his mind on the need for council reorganisation, but we’ll skip over that to avoid complication…”

    No, I think it’s time to have a look at that one, and ask the Minister just WHERE THE F*** that one disappeared to…

  • Banjaxed

    The Diary of a Nobody
    by Edwin Pooter.
    ‘Saw a hedge today. It was green. It was also big. I wondered to myself ‘Does that hedge do everything by itself?. What happens if it gets too big? Does it grow down or can it cut its own top?’ I must consult with my consultants. They must know more than I do as I understand they’re being paid more. I wonder who pays them? I’m sure I don’t know. I just sign pieces of paper for hundreds and hundreds of pounds, sometimes thousands and thousands of pounds. I wonder where those bits of paper go? They never come back. I must consult with my other team of consultants to find out. Dearie, dearie me, I’ve had such a busy, busy day. I’m quite exhausted. Must tell Carrie and Lupin tomorrow about my busy, buzzzzz…zz..zz…’

  • This just looks like insular whingeing from Newton Emerson. Is he complaining about consultations? God knows this is a trivial issue, but people here weren’t consulted for the 2003 Act.

    Speaking of the 2003 Act, it seems that there was a consultation there. It ended in 1999 (I can’t find the report itself, which must make a stunning read, but there are lots of references to it). So it took about five years to get from conception to Act in England and Wales. And then the English launched another consultation in 2004 to figure out how the Act would be implemented.

    Also, we’re not much farther behind the Scots, who started their consultation last year. And their Assembly wasn’t suspended at all.

    So this takes time everywhere, and why shouldn’t it? The only real lesson seems to be that democratic government in the UK, in all its mad variety, is slow government. Even when it comes to Daily Mail-inspired silliness, since when is slow law-making a worse thing than fast law-making?

  • Alias

    “Perhaps because that’s the point. Stormont is supposed to work like this, drawing everyone into its labyrinthine structures. It’s not about getting things done, it’s about getting certain people to do them.”

    Which is the tragedy of subvention. You can afford to indulge this level of inefficiency because more prosperous nations are paying your bills.

    It’s also why Ireland needs to closely scrutinise the cross-border bodies to see if these are delivering ‘product’ or whether they are equal inefficient. As a sovereign nation, we have to pay our own bills so we need to be very careful that we are getting value for money and that the institutions of this state operate in the national interests of this state and not in the national interest of the United Kingdom – or simply as a kindergarten for political toddlers or for an ulterior and inappropriate purpose of drawing British political parties into the internal affairs of the Irish state.

  • Brian Walker

    Ah well now Mick, I wouldn’t beat up on Stormont too much over high hedges. The Westminster precedent is not all hearts and flowers. It involves the high politics of Middle England. I have to declare an interest. Voluntarily, about five years ago, I paid to have three leylandii in the garden of my former house here in London cut back to oblige a distraught neighbour. Now, the light into my new flat is blocked by a forest next door. So will the system help me?
    There was quite a saga in Westminster. First it so happens my own MP Steve Pound introduced a High Hedges private members bill in the late 90s I think, only to have it quashed on direct orders from Downing St. “Tony says the middle class like their high hedges”, was the message. And whatever Tony said, went in those days.

    Eventually – and after great agonising over what Middle Britain’s settled opinions were – the Act was passed!
    What impact does it make on my campaign – with others in the block – to let in the light? A council environmental officer is supposed to come round to inspect and if necessary mediate. His powers are weak. S/he has to make a judgment of Solomon. But budgets are so tight and the rules are so restrictive anyway that nothing gets done for years. As an alternative, litigation is expensive and the outcome uncertain. I’m waiting three years and counting – much the same time as we’re all waiting for the NI Assmbly to take off properly. Compared to High Hedges, 11 plus transfer is a breeze.

  • Never mind high hedges and the Stormont kerfuffle, what about this great story from the Giants Causeway: “Moyle District Council’s ‘Duty to the World'”. Slugger bloggers really have been asleep at their laptops!!

  • wild turkey

    in my limited and somewhat dated experience, NI senior civil servants have two gears; neutral and reverse. does anyone have any info or insight as to what degree the inertia of the senior civil service has effectively informed the lack of product from 3 years of the current assembly?

    yeah i know, in theory civil servants advise and supposedly take their marching orders from ministers…but then again i’ve lived here long enough to recall a TV series called Yes Minister.


    interesting but,uh, confusing.

    2 questions

    in laypersons terms, what does this order mean with respect to unfettered public access to the giants causeway?

    is it your assessment that the issue merits a seperate post?


  • WT, there isn’t a threat to public access to the Giants Causeway and it would appear that local councils aren’t fulfilling their duties with regard to rights of way legislation. So, yes, there are two stories worthy of wider coverage.

    Roads Service could also have included a map as well as tidying up the language in their statement.

    I’m not sure why Roads Service stepped in; AFAIK all it does is maintain the surface of the roads and paths there. Perhaps Moyle DC passed the buck.

    When you look at the behaviour of our Ministers, Committees and senior Civil Servants we could have our very own version: Aye Minister. It would be great crack!!

  • sunningdale1973

    Extract from NI Assembly Hansard Tuesday 19 January

    Mr Dallat: I welcome the Minister’s statement. Whatever happened in the past, the present Minister has brought the issue to the Floor. Although it may not excite the palates of those who live in their haciendas with their ha-has at the bottom of their lawns to guarantee them views of the countryside, it affects a lot of people in more urban areas. It is a particular problem for people living in housing estates. Has the Minister given any thought to looking at reserved matters and planning so that the problem does not arise in the first place and so that we do not have to clip it?

    The Minister of the Environment: I am not aware of the ha-ha tree, and I am not sure that the legislation will cover that species. We have no intention to change the planning legislation. There are no planning laws that could be implemented whereby individuals could be banned from planting a particular species.

    No other comment necessary