Judge rules London council must allow telecoms equipment on tower block

A judge has ruled that a north London council must allow the installation of telecommunications equipment on a building it owns in what is thought to be the first court judgment on the impact of new rules that effectively allow telecommunications equipment to be forced on landowners.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

The new Electronic Communications Code has come under analysis for what is believed to be the first time in a tribunal case.

Mobile phone operators, EE Limited and Hutchison 3G Limited, argued that they urgently need to install equipment on the roof of residential block, Threadgold House, but faced opposition from the building's owner, the London Borough of Islington.

The operators claimed before the Upper Tribunal (UT) that the urgency arose because its existing telecommunications site, about 140 metres away on the roof of Leroy House, was under threat.

The owner of Leroy House was seeking planning permission to redevelop the site and had indicated that it would require the equipment's removal.

In the circumstances, the operators asked the tribunal to "impose an agreement" on the council, requiring it to provide an alternative location at Threadgold House. The application is being made under the Electronic Communications Code, which was introduced by the Digital Economy Act 2017.

Given the urgency of the matter, the UT has now directed the council to accept the installation of equipment on Threadgold House on an interim basis, pending a final determination of the operators' application in January or February next year.

The interim order will, however, only come into effect if planning consent is granted for the redevelopment of Leroy House.

The council's lawyers argued that it was seriously prejudicial to impose an agreement on a landowner on terms which it would not willingly have accepted.

Residents of Threadgold House would also inevitably suffer noise, disturbance and inconvenience whilst the equipment was being installed.

The judge observed: "I agree that any property owner who is deprived of the right to do as they wish with their own property and made to accept a price that is lower than they would like, possibly substantially lower than they would like, can be said to have sustained an infringement of their property rights which is prejudicial."

But he added: "The whole premise of the code is that there is a need, in the public interest, to impose agreements on unwilling parties in return for consideration which Parliament has deemed to be adequate notwithstanding that it may be significantly lower than would result from an unrestricted commercial negotiation."

The operators said they would need about eight months to arrange a seamless transition of their equipment between the two buildings. Any delay would place mobile phone coverage in a densely populated area in jeopardy.

Judge Rodger said the operators had established a good arguable case that the interim order was necessary and that any prejudice suffered by the council could, in principle, be compensated in monetary terms.

He concluded: "My overall assessment at this stage is that there is a good arguable case that the public benefit in reducing the risk of the operators' electronic communications coverage being lost or compromised in a business and residential area...outweighs the small amount of prejudice that would be caused on the council's side."

A further hearing early next year will determine whether the order will be made permanent, and, if so, the amount of rent the operators will be required to pay the council for the use of Threadgold House's roof.

EE Limited & Anr v The Mayor and Burgesses of the London Borough of Islington. Case Number: TCR/68/2018

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