NEIGHBOURS locked in bitter disputes over leylandii hedges could see an end to their problems from today.

Legislation means councils can investigate complaints from homeowners who say the conifers block out their light or obstruct their views.

People who fail to cut the hedges or adhere to the action imposed by councils could face a £1,000 fine.

Councils are preparing to use the powers, which will allow them to investigate complaints and charge homeowners up to £550.

Darlington Borough Council said it had already received five complaints from people who wanted it to investigate further. Members will agree a charge next month.

Stockton Borough Council said it was planning to charge £350 to carry out investigations, while Chester-le-Street District Council has opted for a fee of £265 and Richmondshire council is proposing a fee of £135.

Middlesbrough Council has received inquiries, but has yet to set a charge.

Householders could also face charges of up to £200 a day, as well as a fine, if they fail to comply with the courts and the council.

Intervention will only be taken as a last resort and people must prove they have taken all reasonable steps to resolve the problems before calling the council.

A Government spokesman said: "This legislation means that people whose lives have been made a misery will now be able to resolve these problems."

A spokeswoman for pressure group Hedgeline, which campaigns on behalf of people affected by leylandii, said it was unfair that victims had to bear the cost of investigations into their neighbours' anti-social behaviour.