Landmark ruling on landowners’ rights in telecoms case

12 April 2018

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A recent High Court landmark decision has made clear that the Electronic Communications Code (Old Code) does not automatically protect telecoms operators from suit. The ruling found in favour of a developer who was claiming damages against telecoms operators for breach of contract. The developer, who was converting an office building into residential apartments, claimed the operators were liable to pay damages because they delayed relocating telecoms equipment that had been temporarily moved onto scaffolding, back to a new permanent location on the roof.

Under the contractual agreement agreed by both parties, the relocation of equipment was to take place in stages, but after the first relocation took place on time, subsequent relocations were delayed, causing loss to the developer.

The operators disputed that they were liable in damages because the Electronic Communications Code (Old Code) provided them complete immunity. However, the High Court ruling determined that despite the repeal of the Old Code and introduction of the New Code in December 2017, the supremacy of the contractual agreement had been preserved in the new legislation. The operator therefore is not automatically exonerated from breach of contract and the landowner may be entitled to claim damages.

Jeremy Symons, Director at Cooke & Arkwright said, “There is often concern determining potential redevelopment value for properties or sites where masts are already installed. This ruling provides more certainty surrounding agreements to have telecoms equipment relocated for redevelopment purposes. It provides encouragement to landowners and restores an element of balance between the parties.  

“There is now a degree of comfort to be had from knowing that some of the scare stories relating to potential impact from the Telecommunications Act 1984 may turn out to be ill-founded. We would always advise that maintaining a good working relationship between operators and landowners is essential, as each party needs the other to achieve their respective objectives.”