Housing Trust ordered to allow installation of high-tech equipment

A housing trust has been ordered to allow a communications company to install and operate equipment on the roof of one of its properties.

The case involved Cornerstone Telecommunications Infrastructure Ltd and London & Quadrant Housing Trust (2020).

Cornerstone’s activities included installing and maintaining telecommunications apparatus which it made available to its shareholders, two telecommunications companies, and to others.

It wished to install equipment on the top of an eight-storey block containing offices and residential flats in South London. The roof was used for solar panels, and the apparatus would be installed around the panels.

An interim order had been made imposing an agreement on the housing trust under the provisions of the Electronic Communications Code and installation of the apparatus had already begun.

Most of the terms were already agreed, including a 10-year term. However, the trust was concerned about the effect of increased weight on the roof and the obligations it would have to check the extent to which the apparatus and the works undertaken might present a fire risk.

The issue was whether there should be an equipment cap imposed limiting the Cornerstone's right to install apparatus.

The Upper Tribunal (Lands) held that any fear that Cornerstone might install unlimited equipment on the roof of the building was fanciful.

The agreement included a term prohibiting it from overloading any part of the building and requiring it to take all reasonable steps to ensure that it did not make the building, or any plant or machinery on it, unsafe.

In practice the amount of apparatus capable of being installed was limited by the strength of the supporting structure and the size of the communications site. An equipment cap would invite dispute and jeopardise Cornerstone’s ability to provide a service to network providers: it would not be included in the agreement.

The parties had agreed a 10-year term and it was reasonable to expect improvements to technology within that period, including 5G, which would arguably involve "upgrading" within the meaning of the Code.

The facilitation of new technology was one of the objectives of the Code. It would be inappropriate to impose terms that might significantly impede upgrading. It was therefore appropriate to permit upgrading without limit.

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