A COUNCIL has been accused of harassing a music teacher with multiple sclerosis in a row over a hedge that the authority has claimed was preventing people from safely using the pavement.

Dr Elaine Horner said while anxiety could trigger relapses of her debilitating condition, Darlington Borough Council had sent her two letters and three emails instructing her to cut back her beech and privet hedge after receiving a single complaint from one of her neighbours, claiming it was obstructing the pavement and creating a safety issue.

Dr Horner said it had become clear the council had become “very focussed on my particular hedge” and she and her gardener had even spotted the council officer leading on the complaint drive by her house as it was being trimmed this week.

She said the hedge outside her home on Caedmon Crescent was cut twice a year to ensure it was always in good condition, but believed the council’s order to cut it to within 15cm of her perimeter would harm the abundance of wildlife living in it and create an eyesore.

She said: “ I feel that I’m being harassed. My hedge does indeed overhang the pavement a little, but there is still plenty of room for pedestrians and there is a grass verge between the pavement and the road so no-one has to step out into the road to avoid the hedge.”

Dr Horner said in increasingly abrasive communications with her, the council had dismissed her concerns about wildlife being harmed.

She said: “The way the council was badgering me made me feel like I was living in a communist state and, from their desire to wreck green stuff, it seems like they want us to appear as one too.

“The birds nest in it and, even now when the nesting season is over, there are still many birds living in it and visiting it.

“There are at least 15 different types of birds using it at the moment. The hedge is also shelter to hedgehogs, I recently saw a stoat under it and of course the squirrels come and go through it as do the foxes and field mice.”

Councillor Charles Johnson, who lives opposite Dr Horner, said he intervened over the issue with council officers as he believed cars parking on the pavement were limiting space on the path.

He said the council needed to publicise the fact that hedges were not allowed to overhang pavements by more than 15cms as many residents were not aware of the rule.

Councillor Andy Keir, the council’s cabinet member for local services, said a council inspection had found the hedge was reducing the width of the footway by approximately half.

He said: “The council has a legal responsibility to make the highway safe and accessible for all users, we therefore contacted the owner of the property and asked for the hedge to be cut back.

“We have had ongoing communications with the owner and sought advice from our arboriculturist as well as from the Royal Horticultural Society and we have been advised the hedge can be cut back in such a way to reduce any long term damage to the hedge, whilst also providing the general public with suitable access to the footway.”