Woman in fierce row with neighbour over 50ft hedge admits defeat… 20 years later

A woman has relinquished the gorgeous view from her house after she was locked in a 20-year battle with her neighbour due to a 50 foot leylandii hedge.

Val Horton’s Bathampton bungalow used to overlook Solsbury Hill in Somerset, a location famously featured in a classic pop song by Peter Gabriel.

However, the council has said it cannot order her neighbour to chop them down as they don’t block out enough sunlight, so she has reluctantly admitted defeat.

In 2001, the Leylandii trees were planted by Val’s neighbour, Valeria Vivian, but as they have grown they have blocked the ‘wonderful’ view.

Ms Horton, a retired civil servant, has been campaigning for twenty years to have the trees cut down.

She hoped they would be cut under the High Hedges part of the Antisocial Behaviour Act.

But Bath and North East Somerset Council have ruled that she cannot order the hedgerow to be cut short, because the trees don’t block access to her property and her home still gets enough light.

Ms Horton said the issue with her spoilt view has ‘exhausted’ her – but other neighbours see it as less of an issue.

She said they did not know how ‘beautiful’ the view was before, as they have nothing to compare it to.

Her neighbours believe she planted the Leylandi deliberately, with the plants able to grow 3ft every year and up to 100ft in total.

Originally Ms Horton intended to construct four houses in the plot of land behind her property.

But in 2016, the proposed development was refused six times after objections from local residents.

In desperation, the villagers have previously contacted local Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg and the parish council.

Mr Rees-Mogg said in 2016: “I have written to the council about this issue on several occasions but it is hard for it to intervene in a situation where there is no legislative answer.

He added: ‘It is essentially a dispute between neighbours which is best resolved through goodwill on both sides.”

Previously, the chair of Bathampton Parish Council said the trees were ‘very out of keeping with the village’, adding that they are ‘not appropriate’ for a Conservation area.

In 2016 she said: “We have been very supportive of the residents but we are limited in what we can do. We would like to see a change in the law.”

In April 2017, residents close by pledged to fight the CPS’ decision not to prosecute Valerie Vivian.

She was due to stand trial for damaging a strip of land near her home in the village of Bathampton but the CPS gave her a last-minute reprieve due to a ‘lack of evidence’.

However, neighbours vowed to ‘fight, fight, fight’ the decision in the belief that only a conviction can finally put an end to the 20-year dispute that has torn the village apart.

Pledging to appeal the decision, one invoked wartime leader Winston Churchill, saying that his famous phrase about ”jaw jaw’ being better than ‘war war” did not apply.

Valerie Vivian was led away by police in October 2016 after she was allegedly spotted digging up soil laid by her neighbours in a jointly-owned communal garden in Bathampton, Somerset

Her neighbours had laid the soil over a gravel path she had allegedly put down in a ‘land-grab’ without planning permission, which harks back to a planning dispute that started in 2001.

Vivian’s neighbours previously accused her of planting a ‘barricade’ of 50ft Leylandii trees on her land to block their views of Solsbury Hill in ‘an act of revenge’ after they opposed her application to build on the land.

Since then, she has refused to cut back the trees and they now totally block the once picturesque sight of the National Trust-owned landmark.

Neighbours on Miller Walk had hoped that her prosecution would finally set appropriate boundaries that would end the 20-year dispute.

But there was outrage in the village after the CPS quoted ‘lack of evidence’ as the reason for discontinuing the case, when many offered but where never asked to give testimonies.

One neighbour, who did not want to be named, said at the time: ‘I think that the planning decision from the local council has been absolutely clear that there should not be any alteration in the appearance of the land.

‘Therefore we are surprised that the CPS have decided not to proceed. We need to find out why the CPS feel they didn’t have a strong enough case.

‘The police took statements from us when Mrs Vivian was arrested but we were told it was not necessary for us to attend or give evidence.

‘Prosecution would have brought clarity to the situation and what has happened now is all the waters are muddied again.

‘We are back to where we were before Mrs Vivian was arrested. All we can do is continue to try and find a solution.’

He added: ‘This is not just important to us. It’s important to the local community.

‘People always use the grass and a gravel drive is unnecessary. What does it do? What does it achieve? Why would you spoil an open area with that?

‘It doesn’t feel as though the end is in sight. I think this is going to carry on, unfortunately – I can’t see any conclusion.’

Mrs Vivian has applied six times to build four houses on private land she bought in 1996 behind the close where she rents a property, but each time has been refused.

She planted the first copse of conifers in 1998 and three years later, she first applied to build four houses on the field.

But the council denies the 2001 application after heavy opposition from neighbours who were worried a development would block their views of the stunning hills.

Since then she has refused to cut back the trees, which need constant attention.

She also planted many more which entirely block the view of Solsbury Hill from Miller Walk and nearby streets, where houses cost around £1million.

Neighbours even accused her of blackmail after she promised to remove the wall of trees if they backed her planning application, but they refused to back down and it was refused after 85 people objected.

The council says it is powerless to act as homes in the street get plenty of sunlight and homeowners do not have a legal right to a view of Solisbury Hill.

The long-running saga has pushed the once close, rural community to breaking point.

Bath and North East Somerset Council has been contacted for comment.