Ecclesiastical Law Association

Ecclesiastical Law Association

Judgments: Telecomms

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There was a petition by the Rector and Churchwardens and a telecommunications company seeking permission for the installation of six antennae and a transmission dish in the bell tower behind replacement GRP louvres, and the completion of a licence agreement. There were three written objections. Two of the objectors raise an issue about the adequacy of publication. The Chancellor gave a preliminary decision on this issue, directing that, in view of the sensitivity of the subject-matter, there should be republication of the notices.

The Rector and Churchwardens petitioned for a faculty to permit the installation of telecommunications equipment in the tower of the Grade II* church, and to permit the completion of a licence agreement with Net Coverage Solutions Limited. There were over 80 objectors, none of whom became parties opponent. Faculty granted.

This decision contains directions arising from a further objection received following the decision in Re St. Luke Charlton [2016] ECC Swk 1, which related to the proposed installation of telecomms equipment in the church tower. The new objector claimed that the proposed equipment would emit harmful radiation. The Chancellor pointed out that, in view of the Court of Arches decision in Re Emmanuel Church Bentley (2006), he could not refuse a faculty  on the grounds of danger to health, if the proposed equipment complied with international guidelines, which it did. To pursue such a claim might therefore put the objector at risk of an order for costs, if he pursued such an objection. The Chancellor therefore gave the objector 21 days in which to consider the leagl position and decide whether he wished to withdraw his objection.

The proposal was to install telecommunications antennae in the Grade I church and to enter into an agreement with the telecommunications contractor. Two parishioners objected, on the grounds that people could suffer from harmful radiation, but they did not wish to become parties opponent. The Chancellor granted a faculty. Referring to the Court of Arches judgment in Re Emmanuel Church, Bentley [2006] 1 Fam 39, he pointed out that, where the Government set the permitted levels of radiation as a prerequisite of planning consent, it would be wrong for the consistory courts to apply lower guidelines.

The Team Vicar and the church fabric officer petitioned for a faculty to authorise the installation of wireless broadband equipment in the tower of the church, situated in a remote and beautiful village where broadband speeds were extremely poor. The PCC approved the proposals by 7 votes for and 2 against, the two dissenters being the two churchwardens, who became parties opponent. The Chancellor determined to grant a faculty. The physical and aesthetic impacts on the church would be minimal, and the advantages of the installation would be of great benefit to the rural community.

The Chancellor granted a faculty to authorise a twenty year licence permitting the installation and maintenance of mobile telephone antennas and dishes in the tower of the Grade II listed church. The Parochial Church Council had debated possible health issues and one member of the PCC objected on the ground that  mobile telephones can be used to transmit material that is both unlawful and immoral. In respect of the health issue, the Chancellor cited  Re St. Margaret Hawes [2003] 1 WLR 2568 (approved in Re Emmanuel Bentley [2006] 1 Fam 39 (Court of Arches)), in which it was said that there was no compelling evidence that radio transmissions within permitted levels were a danger to health. And in relation to the possible transmission of unlawful and immoral material, the Chancellor cited Chingford St. Peter and St. Paul [2007] 1 Fam 67, in which the Court of Arches decided that this was not a sufficient basis on which to refuse a faculty.

Faculty granted for telecomms antennae to be placed in the tower of a Grade II* early nineteenth century church.