Ignoring requests isn't an option and taking professional advice as soon as possible will avoid potential pitfalls further down the line.
Licenced telecoms operators have statutory powers to install telecoms apparatus on land. Educational institution sites often encompass large buildings, open space and good access, all of which are attractive targets for telecoms operators. And yet, the prospect of workers and apparatus on site raises a number of challenges. It can therefore be extremely worrying when an operator asks permission to carry out a survey to determine if it is suitable for telecoms apparatus.
It can be tempting to ignore or refuse operators' requests to carry out surveys. However, where landowners will not agree to surveys, operators can apply to the court for permission instead. The court will usually allow an operator's request and may also order the landowner to pay the operator's resulting legal costs. It will rarely be productive to ignore or flatly refuse an operator's requests to survey and engaging with the operator will often allow you to reach a better outcome than you would achieve at court.
However, you should ensure that the survey meets with any practical or legal requirements you may have. For example, a survey may raise health and safety or security responsibilities which need to be addressed, or you may need to obtain consent from tenants or occupiers before allowing a survey to take place. You should also consider up-front payment of any additional costs to which you will be put as a result of the survey (such as staff overtime and legal costs) which you may be able to recover from the operator.
Permission to survey is not permission to install apparatus and you will have an opportunity to negotiate terms for the installation of apparatus, or object to such installation, at a later stage. Any comments or objections to a survey should therefore focus on the impact of the survey and not on potential future apparatus.
The court will expect both sides to respect each other's requirements and to try to reach a practical solution. If agreement cannot be reached, the operator can refer the matter to court to decide terms. This is a very costly exercise and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
In some rare cases, the prejudice which would be caused by the survey may be grounds to refuse the survey. Prejudice can include reputational and commercial damage, safety and security issues and breaches of statutory and other duties. For educational institutions, these are all very important factors which may show that it would be inappropriate to allow a survey to take place.
It is important to take professional advice as soon as possible if you are approached by a telecoms operator to carry out a survey. A specialist telecoms surveyor can help to negotiate terms on your behalf and can advise on any compensation which may be due. One of our specialist telecoms lawyers can guide you through the process, advise on any grounds for objection, legal requirements or opportunities to limit the extent of the survey. We can also document any agreements that the parties may reach.