Ecclesiastical Law Association

Ecclesiastical Law Association

Judgments: Telecomms

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Faculty application for permission to place wifi-boosting equipment on a church spire. Numerous objectors with a general interest in the supposed effects of electro-magnetic radiation. Two expert witnesses for the petitioners found no convincing evidence in scientific reports to support alleged sensitivity to such radiation. Faculty granted.

A faculty was granted for the installation of wireless broadband equipment at the parish church. The judgment deals with the questions of whether relatives of a person living within the parish who do not themselves live within the parish have a sufficient interest to enable their representations to be considered; whether the Consistory Court has jurisdiction over matters which affect not only the church or churchyard but also potentially a wider area; whether the role of the DIocesan Board of Finance as, indirectly, a shareholder in the company proposing to erect wireless broadband equipment on the church had a bearing on the case; and whether the electromagnetic radiation emanating from the proposed wireless broadband equipment would be harmful to health.

There had been a faculty application to authorise the installation of telecommunications equipment at the church and the completion of a licence agreement between the Parochial Church Council and the telecommunications operator. The Chancellor had refused to grant a faculty. The petitioners appealed. The appeal was allowed and the court directed that a faculty should issue. The court found that the Chancellor had unnecessarily given weight to the church's primary responsibility being mission, an argument which had not been put forward by the objectors, and had not given sufficient weight to the evidence in favour of the proposals, particularly that the Government had issued guidelines to planning authorities that planning consent should not be refused for telecommunications equipment on the grounds of arguments as to danger to human health, if installations complied with international guidelines.  

Faculty granted for installation of telecommunications equipment. Late objection from Westminster City Council. Discussion of the planning and faculty processes and also of the meaning of "materially affects the external appearance" in relation to replacement of lead-covered oak louvres with fibreglass replicas.

This was an interim judgment confined to a preliminary issue of security for costs. The petitioners proposed the installation of telecommunications equipment in the church. There was one objector, who considered that the use of the equipment would be harmful to her health and that of other people. In Re Emmanuel Church, Bentley [2006], the Court of Arches made it clear that it would not normally be appropriate to refuse the grant of a faculty for telecommunications equipment if it met the standards for such equipment laid down in Government guidance, though the Court of Arches envisaged that in a particular case a party opponent might be able to demonstrate by reference to scientific evidence that it would not be appropriate to grant a faculty. The petitioners sought security for costs. It was clear to the Chancellor that if he made an order, the objector might have difficulty in raising the security, as a result of which she would effectively be deprived of her right to be heard. He therefore declined to make an order for security for costs.

There was an application to install telecomms equipment in the tower of the Grade II listed church. The party opponent claimed that the transmission of electronic data by telecomms aerials was generally a threat to health. She also said that she was personally hypersensitive to existing electro-magnetic fields. The Chancellor reiterated the basis of the Court of Arches decision in Re Bentley Emmanuel, Bentley [2006] that in the absence of compelling evidence of a real risk to human health as a result of transmitting radio waves up to the levels set by the United Kingdom Government in their adoption of the ICNIRP guidelines, it would be wrong for the consistory court to adopt more rigorous guidelines than those recommended by the government for application in a secular context. Faculty granted.

This decision should be read in conjunction with Re St. James Kidbrooke [2016] ECC Swk 13  and Re St. James Kidbrooke [2016] ECC Swk 16. The petitioners proposed the installation of telecommunications equipment in the church. There were seven objectors, of whom one became a opponent. She objected on the grounds that radio waves and electrical fields would be harmful to human health. The Chancellor gave directions inviting the objector to consider Government guidance on telecommunications systems and the Court of Arches decision in In re Emmanuel Church Bentley (2006), as a result of which he could not refuse a faculty on the grounds of danger to health, if equipment complied with international standards, unless there was some compelling expert evidence to the contrary. He also alerted the objector that she might be putting herself at risk of an application for costs being made against her by the Petitioners. The Chancellor directed that within 14 days the objector should notify the Registry whether (i) she intended to call an expert witness or witnesses, and (ii) she required there to be a hearing.

In Re St. James Kidbrooke [2016] ECC 16 the Chancellor of the Diocese of Southwark granted a faculty to permit the installation of twelve antennae and two dishes behind GRP replacement louvres in the tower of the church and gave authority for the Rector to enter a licence agreement for a term of 20 years with the telecommunications company. The sole party opponent applied to the Court of Arches for leave to appeal on six grounds. The Dean of Arches refused to grant leave to appeal.

This is a decision on costs given by the Dean of Arches in respect of his refusal to grant leave to appeal (Re St. James Kidbrooke [2017] EACC 1).