Angry couple say neighbour's overgrown garden has 'knocked £20,000 off house value'

·4 min read
Fred Sweenie
Fred Sweenie says the garden next door is so overgrown it's making his life a misery. (Reach)

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

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. 

Fred Sweenie and wife Jan say the situation is making them ill. (Reach)
Fred Sweenie and wife Jan say the situation is making them ill. (Reach)

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.

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"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."

Sweenie said he felt let down and treated badly by the situation. (Reach)
Sweenie said he felt let down and treated badly by the situation. (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.

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"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.

"If you cannot treat respectful citizens such as myself with compassion, it says something sad about society. I've played for Her Majesty the Queen and at Westminster Abbey and at the opening of Birmingham Symphony Hall.

"To do all of the things that I've done I am now being treated as a second-class citizen. People should be treated with more respect."

Son Guy added: "I have no doubt that the whole process was making dad very ill. 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.  

Tracey Tudor, head of corporate services at Lichfield District Council, said: "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."

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. 

"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.

Fabricant said: "Back in May, we asked Mr Sweenie to send us further information and we have still yet to hear from him.

"This is, however, a district council matter though we are always happy to act as intermediaries."

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