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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Ethan Davies

Phone mast firm part-owned by BT slapped with huge fine for not turning generator off

A telecommunications company has been slapped with a huge fine in court after failing to switch off a generator and pulling down a mast.

Mobile Broadband Network Limited (MBNL), which according to the company accounts is jointly owned by BT Group and CK Hutchinson Holdings, erected a temporary mobile phone mast on a golf course in Northenden in March 2018. It used emergency development rights to secure permission for the mast.

However, the mast and generator should have been removed by September 2019 because those emergency development rights came to an end. Manchester City Council refused to give planning permission to keep it on the land for a further 12 months.

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After no action was taken to remove the generator, a planning enforcement notice was issued to MBNL by the council in July 2020. That notice gave MBNL until 1 September 2021 to switch off the generator.

The council also says it provided MBNL with the opportunity to provide its account under caution, but no response was received from the firm. The company failed to comply with the notice — leading to a court date on Monday (January 16).

It was only after MBNL was summoned to Manchester Magistrates’ Court that 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. The bench said that the smoke from the generator caused harm to nearby neighbouring residents.

The mast which Mobile Broadband Network Limited attached a generator to and failed to turn off (Manchester City Council)

Ultimately, Magistrates handed MBNL a £40,000 fine, and ordered the company to pay £1,208 in costs and a £181 victim of crime surcharge within 28 days. Now, the council hopes the punishment will ‘send a strong message’ to firms which skirt the law.

“I hope the level of fine in this case sends a strong message to companies – regardless of their size – that planning regulations are in place to protect local communities from development that could cause harm,” Coun Gavin White, the council’s executive member for housing and development, said. “We take our enforcement responsibilities seriously and where we find inappropriate development – whether that be a phone mast or building – which hasn’t got the correct permissions, we will take action.”

A spokesperson for MBNL told the MEN that it was 'regrettable' the mast and generator stayed up past the '18 month statutory period'. A statement said: "Representatives from MBNL attended the Manchester Magistrates Court recently and accepted liability for having breached Planning control involving a temporary telecoms mast on grounds within Northenden Golf Course.

"MBNL received an enforcement notice from Manchester City Council following the installation of the temporary site. Whilst it was important to maintain network coverage for customers when a more permanent solution was being sought, it was regrettable that the temporary site was retained beyond the statutory 18-month period.

"All equipment has now been removed and the golf course grounds have been fully reinstated. MBNL is working closely with Manchester City Council to find a permanent siting solution whilst ensuring network coverage continues to be available to customers in the area.”

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