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Protecting your Charity - Dealing with Telecoms Operators and Requests to Survey

on Friday, 18 February 2022.

Licenced telecoms operators have statutory powers to install telecoms apparatus on land, but charities will often hold properties for specific purposes or subject to certain conditions.

For example, they may be entrusted to preserve a building, or to use a space for recreation only. It can therefore be extremely worrying when an operator asks permission to survey one of your properties to determine if it is suitable for telecoms apparatus.

How to Manage Requests to Survey

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 court for permission instead. The court will usually allow an operator's request and may order the landowner to pay the operator's resulting legal costs. Engaging with an operator will often allow you to reach a better outcome than you would achieve at court. It will therefore rarely be productive to ignore or flatly refuse an operator's requests to survey.

You should however make sure that the survey meets with any practical or legal requirements you may have. For example, a survey may raise security or safeguarding issues, or you may need to obtain consent from your landlord, the Charity Commission or another body before allowing an intrusive survey (such as drilling) 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 any 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 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 damage, safeguarding issues, damage to irreplaceable property (eg historic buildings), breaches of statutory duties, or breaches of the terms on which property is held.  For charities, these are all very important factors which may show that it would be inappropriate to allow a survey to take place.

Seeking Advice

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 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 relevant parties may reach.

For help managing requests to survey, please contact Phillip Sheppard in our Property Litigation team on 0117 314 5621, or complete the form below.

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