Detail in neighbour's home may cost man $40,000

·4-min read

An elderly man has pleaded for help over an overgrown garden next door that he says is making his and his wife's lives a misery.

Fred Sweenie, a retired Royal Air Force (RAF) musician who has played for the Queen, said he has been unable to resolve the situation for years and the overgrown garden has now knocked at least £20,000 ($A37,600) off the value of his house.

The 82-year-old said the garden of the semi-detached house next door to his home in Burntwood, Staffordshire is so overgrown with trees that tower as high as the house that it's blocking light to his garden.

It means he and his wife Janet, 69, and 36-year-old son Guy can't enjoy their own garden.

Fred Sweenie says the garden next door is so overgrown it's making his life a misery. Source: Reach
Fred Sweenie says the garden next door is so overgrown it's making his life a misery. Source: Reach

Mr Sweenie says nobody has been seen at the house next door for 15 years and he has been complaining about it for 12 but can't get anything done.

He says the state of the garden has led to issues with rats and has now made him ill. He also claims one estate agent had told him it would have knocked at least £20,000 off the value of his house.

Mr Sweenie, who served 12 years in the RAF Central band, playing at major royal events including garden parties at Buckingham Palace, said the situation is affecting his health.

"We first moved into the property in Rugeley Road in 1982. At the time, next door was well kept and well maintained. This really started to go wrong around 20 years ago.

"There was a serious neglect of the garden. It looked like there was no money being spent on repairs at the house.

"The last time we saw someone at the property was around 15 years ago. Our first complaint was around 12 years ago. 

It came about after we heard a humming noise coming from next door. We enquired and it turned out the wiring was archaic which led us to be worried about a possible fire hazard.

"I explained to the person from the council that no one had been living there and the house was unoccupied."

Fred Sweenie and wife Jan say the situation is making them ill. Source: Reach
Fred Sweenie and wife Jan say the situation is making them ill. Source: Reach

He said after struggling to get help from the council, he eventually contacted Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant who wrote to the council requesting an investigation.

"When they did undergo a full investigation, they said that the property was occupied and that, apart from one shed that was full of food waste that had to be knocked down, there was no need to do anything else.

"When they told me that, it felt like someone was stabbing me in the chest.

"It made me very ill and we dropped the inquiries in 2017. I was getting nightmares. That was the worst time I think. The house combined with the rats and the fact that we get no light in our garden because of the towering trees really made me ill."

Council 'investigating' complaint

His son, Guy added he has "no doubt" the whole process has made his father "very ill".

"I have no doubt that the whole process was making dad very ill," he said. 

"If they take this long, I have to ask the question, is he going to live to see the changes? We might be waiting another two years before work starts on the garden next door."

"When investigating this type of neighbourhood complaint we need to establish that the condition of land or buildings is harmful to the area, which is not straightforward," Tracey Tudor, head of corporate services at Lichfield District Council, said.

She said several visits had been made to the garden and while it is overgrown, it has a clear path from one end to the other and is not covered in litter or dumped items.

Sweenie said he felt let down and treated badly by the situation. Source: Reach
Sweenie said he felt let down and treated badly by the situation. Source: Reach

"The owner has told us that he likes his plants and trees to attract wildlife. While the garden may not be to everyone’s taste, we do not believe it breaches any planning laws that govern complaints of this nature, and when comparing it to similar cases."

She said there were insufficient grounds for them to serve a community protection notice but they are monitoring the situation and working with the owner who had agreed to cut back some of the vegetation after September.

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