A GP has won a three-year battle with his millionaire neighbours, after complaining their giant 26ft leylandii hedge towered over and blotted out sunlight at his village home.
Dr Andrew Cross, 64, and his neighbours, property boss Mark Dyer and wife Clare, have clashed in a series of court and planning rows which a judge last year said had turned an idyllic English village into a ‘battlefield.’
The disputes have centred around the Dyers’ creation of a helipad in their field in the tiny Surrey hamlet of Brook, accusations by the Dyers of harassment against a ‘menacing gang’ of neighbours, including Dr Cross, and the enormous hedge opposite Dr Cross’ house.
The GP protested that the hedge, just a few feet from his home, blotted out light from the front of his property and completely wiped out the views he had previously enjoyed over the countryside.
Now, after a hearing at the High Court, the doctor has been handed victory in the hedge battle after a judge upheld a decision that the ‘healthy and vigorous’ wall of leylandii must be cut back.
Residents David and Susan Small, Dr Andrew Cross and Patricia Webb stand next to Mr and Mrs Dyer’s enormous 26ft leylandii hedge, built around a helipad in the couple’s field. The group were dubbed a ‘menacing gang’ by the Dyers
Dr Andrew Cross, 64, has been handed victory in the High Court after it was ruled his neighbours’ 26ft leylandii hedge must be cut
The hedge’s owners Mark and Clare Dyer (pictured) accused residents in their village of Brook, Surrey, of forming a ‘menacing gang’ against them
Judge Karen Walden-Smith dismissed a challenge by Mrs Dyer to a planning inspector’s 2023 ruling, which will now see the massive hedge – which was said to be 26ft tall in January last year – cut back to a height of about 16ft.
Speaking outside court after the ruling, Dr Cross said: ‘My family and I are delighted with this decision, which comes almost three years after my high hedge complaint was lodged.
‘The hedge is less than 15 feet from my front boundary. The hedge towers above the chimney pots of my home, reducing light, and has a very overpowering effect on the entire frontage of my property.’
During a previous hearing, London’s High Court heard that the Dyers, both 59, moved to Brook 25 years ago, buying a sprawling country home, Cheynes, which now boasts a pool and tennis court.
But over the years, they ruffled their neighbours’ feathers by putting in more than 50 planning applications in relation to Cheynes and two nearby cottages owned by Mrs Dyer.
In 2007, they clashed with local council planning officers after building a helipad in their field, which they were ordered to rip up by way of an enforcement notice.
However, the disputes with their neighbours continued and the case reached court in May last year when the Dyers asked for an injunction against Dr Cross and three others – retired bank executive David Small and his wife Susan, plus charity trustee Patricia Webb, all in their 70s and 80s – to prevent them objecting to their planning proposals.
The Dyers’ legal team claimed they had been victims of a ‘personal vendetta’ by their neighbours, who they claimed used planning objections as a ‘device’ to thwart their perfectly reasonable expansion plans.
They said Guildford Borough Council had been bombarded with ‘spurious and unmeritorious’ objections to their planning proposals, and pinpointed specific acts of alleged harassment.
However, the neighbours’ lawyers claimed the Dyers were deliberately painting innocent acts in a sinister light and portraying the four as a ‘menacing gang.’
Last July, Judge Dias declined to grant a temporary injunction and ordered the Dyers to foot their neighbours’ lawyers bills, estimated at £200,000, with £100,000 up front on account, ahead of a full assessment of the costs.
A major element of the row was over the massive leylandi hedge, which has been in place since around 2007 and which Dr Cross first complained about to Guildford Borough Council in 2021, after spending the Covid-19 lockdown researching the law.
The council agreed that the hedge should be lopped down to a height of 4.3m (14ft), but that was tweaked to 4.9m (16ft) by a planning inspector after an appeal by Ms Dyer, who had tried to get the whole order overturned.
In her appeal decision, the planning inspector said it was likely that the hedge caused a ‘significant obstruction of daylight and sunlight to habitable rooms’ at Dr Cross’ home, Cannons, and creates an ‘oppressive outlook.’
An aerial view of the Dyers’ luxury home in Brook. The couple has sought to develop the house a number of times, including by adding an unauthorised helipad that the council later ordered them to tear up
The couple have submitted more than 50 planning applications relating to their luxury home, Cheynes, as well as two cottages owned by Mrs Dyer. These were often met with objections from their neighbours
‘There is no right to a view beyond a hedge, but it might be reasonable to expect that a property should not suffer serious visual intrusion,’ she continued.
‘In this case, the height and length of hedge obscures most of the field of view from the windows and the frontage of Cannons.
‘In my judgment, the height of the hedge therefore has a harmful and overbearing and over-dominant effect on the outlook from Cannons.
‘The current height of the hedge is highly likely to cause an unacceptable loss of light to the garden and habitable rooms of the complainant’s property.
‘I also consider the hedge is a serious visual intrusion into the field of view from Cannons.
‘I therefore conclude that taking these together the hedge adversely affects the reasonable enjoyment of the complainant’s property.’
Mrs Dyer had complained that reducing the height of the hedge would result in a loss of privacy at her property.
But the inspector said: ‘In this case, although Cheynes is at a higher level than Cannons, the house and that part of its large garden likely to be most used by the hedge owner is some significant distance away and is at an oblique angle to the windows in Cannons.’
She said a hedge height of no more than about 17ft would be sufficient to protect the privacy of the Dyers’ home, with the top of Dr Cross’ upper windows less than about 16ft high.
At the High Court, Mrs Dyer tried to challenge that decision, complaining that the planning inspector should have refused to hear the appeal herself.
A private letter offering to drop the appeal if the council agreed to a higher ultimate height for the hedge had been seen by the inspector, the court was told.
In those circumstances, the inspector should have ‘recused’ herself, because of the danger of her being biased against Mrs Dyer’s appeal case by knowledge of the settlement offer.
But following a short hearing, Judge Walden-Smith rejected Mrs Dyer’s application for a full judicial review challenge to the planning inspector’s decision.
The letter had not been a concession that the council was right to order cutting back of the hedge, instead making it clear that Mrs Dyer disputed the appropriateness of the order, she said.
She continued: ‘The inspector quite clearly had in mind the fact she had seen the letter and needed to put it to one side.
‘It is not part of the evidence before her. The inspector did not need to recuse herself from hearing the appeal.
‘She makes it clear she is making her decision irrespective of the contents of that letter of May 2022.
‘She makes it very clear that the contents of the letter have no bearing on her decision.’
She refused Mrs Dyer permission for a judicial review.
The order means Mr and Mrs Dyer have to cut the hedge back initially to 16ft and then maintain it at no higher than 17ft.