Club fined £10k for not issuing legal proceedings against phone mast company

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir April 12, 2024 10:51

In a case unique to the golf industry, a golf club has been fined £10,000 for not instigating legal proceedings against a telecommunications company that had failed to remove a phone mast that was located on its land.

Northenden Golf Club in Manchester was taken to court by its local council because the mast remained in place for a year after planning officials ordered it should be removed, even though the club did not have the legal authority or the physical capability to remove the mast.

A temporary mobile phone mast and generator were first erected on the course in March 2018 under ’emergency development rights’, according to Manchester City Council.

But they should have been removed by September 2019 when the emergency rights ended. A subsequent planning application to retain the mast at the site for a further 12 months was refused by the council, according to the town hall.

A ‘planning enforcement notice’ was issued to the golf club by Manchester City Council in July 2020 which ordered the club to switch off the generator and remove the mast by October 1, 2021.

But council officers observed the generator still in operation and the mast still in place nearly six months after the deadline passed, according to the council, prompting the local authority to launch a prosecution.

The equipment itself was owned and operated by a mobile telecommunications company, Mobile Broadband Network Limited (MBNL), which was fined £40,000 last year for failing to comply with the planning notice.

The mast and generator were finally removed in October 2022, three years after the emergency period expired and one year after the enforcement notice should have been complied with, according to the council.

The golf club pleaded not guilty at a hearing at Manchester and Salford Magistrates’ Court in October last year, and argued that they did not have physical control of the mast or generator and therefore were unable to comply with the enforcement notice.

The council, in a statement, says that although the judge agreed that the club did not have physical control of the mast and generator, they ‘had not done everything expected of them to ensure the notice was complied with’.

The judge found that the golf club, as landlord, did not instigate legal proceedings against the telecommunications company in order to demand it to remove the equipment and therefore found the golf club guilty of not complying with the enforcement notice, say town hall officials.

The golf club was handed a fine of £10,000 and ordered to pay £2,500 towards the council’s costs.

In a statement provided to Manchester Evening News, Northenden Golf Club (NGC) criticised the action taken by Manchester City Council (MCC).

It said: “NGC retains the right to appeal…. The mast and associated equipment provided coverage for mobile telephones and the emergency services. It was installed at NGC in 2018 after the operating companies and MCC agreed a temporary licence. This licence was for three years and was subsequently extended for a further year.

“Due to difficulties in gaining approval for the new site on Mersey Fields, land owned by MCC, the installation could not be removed in the time required and as a result MCC issued an enforcement notice to both MBNL and NGC. This notice required NGC to forcibly enter the compound housing the installation and to disarm the equipment or to prevent the refuelling of the generator. In addition, we were required to remove the mast and associated equipment.

“We contended that we neither had the legal right nor the physical capability to comply with the notice and stated this in our submissions to MCC. At the court hearing, the judge dismissed all but one of the changes listed but concluded that we should have commenced legal action against MBNL, which we argued was unlikely to bring any earlier result.

“The final decision was a great disappointment to us and our legal advisers as we believed that, throughout, we acted in good faith and had never intended to disregard the requirements.”

Following the hearing, Coun Gavin White, Manchester City Council’s executive member for housing and development, said: “Whilst it has taken some time for this case to be finally resolved, in total, two companies have been ordered to pay £50,000 in fines for the part they played in failing to comply with a planning enforcement notice. I hope that this sends a message that the council takes planning regulations seriously and will take firm action when appropriate – particularly in cases where there is clear harm being caused to the wellbeing of local residents.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir April 12, 2024 10:51
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