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UK Local Authorities have no duty to provide street lighting. Have they no duty to provide superfast 5G infrastructure?

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

This is an important issue and I personally have never seen it  raised or covered anywhere since the prospect of superfast 5G telecoms networks was first introduced around four years ago.

As a former council street lighting designer, I can state that councils have no duty to provide street lighting. But they do have a power to install street lighting and associated equipment, which could have been either taken up or set aside.

As it stands, this power was taken up across the board by all UK councils – no matter their size – many decades ago and further back than I can remember. Currently, the Highways Act 1980 empowers all highway authorities to provide lampposts, illuminated signs and associated equipment.

Can Councils legally turn off the lights?

Yes, and with no legal come back. Because there is no statutory requirement on UK Councils to light the highway:

  • The Highways Act empowers local authorities to light roads, but does not impose a duty to do so
  • Councils have a duty of care to road users. They also have an obligation to light permanent obstructions on the highway, such as central refuges and speed humps

Once the lighting is installed, there is a duty to maintain it and to keep it safe.

Given the above, where exactly do councils stand when it comes to third-party equipment that is attached to their lampposts? The following is an official government link that was posted on the UK.gov site recently:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/street-lamps-and-bus-shelters-to-help-boost-5g-roll-out-in-4-million-trial

As you can see, a trial is now underway to affix 5G relay points to lampposts, buildings and street furniture in order to advance the roll-out of 5G networks in the UK. The reason for this is that 5G multi-antenna masts alone are not capable of providing the full coverage needed.

What’s being omitted at the above government link is confirmation that 5G microwaves are ‘line of sight’, cannot pass through buildings and struggle to pass through trees and dense foliage. This is where council lampposts come in. When 5G transceivers (relaying points) are fixed to the top of say, every fifth main road lamppost, buildings, trees and foliage are no longer obstacles and the signal can be carried around and beyond them.

I have a couple of major concerns related to the use of lampposts. One is associated with legal duties and the other with public safety.

Things are moving very quickly

5G is being rolled out in several UK cities by several national and international telecoms companies. And hundreds of 20 to 25 metre 5G masts are now being erected all over the country.

The advantage to your local council of not being statutorily required to provide street lighting is a purely financial one.

Under this arrangement, should you be walking down the road at night and injure yourself in the reduced visibility beneath a broken streetlight, there’s a very good chance that you will not be able to build a claim against the council for negligence or a failure to maintain their equipment. That’s because they are not duty-bound to provide those lampposts, lanterns and lamps in the first place.

Here’s a link to a court case expanding on this point, which involves my former employer, Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Back in 2019, the UK regulatory authorities were extremely keen to have Chinese firm Huawei jumping through hoops to obtain their 5G certifications.

But matters were rather more relaxed when it came to providing the public with some or any reassurance that 5G technology is not hazardous to human health. You see, in the rush to provide us with superfast broadband, and themselves with eye-watering profit streams, they haven’t been required by the UK government or its regulatory partners to conduct adequate, up-to-date safety tests. The customary failsafe on product safety – known as the precautionary principle, which has to be satisfied before most UK products are allowed onto the market – is being completely ignored and sidestepped in the case of 5G infrastructure and 5G mobile phones. This dangerous, cart before the horse situation also applies in the United States and elsewhere globally.

The technical bit

As far as radio propagation goes with 5G, we’re talking microwave, millimetre band radiation within the SHF band of super high frequencies or between 3 and 30 gigahertz (Ghz). 5G itself occupies the narrower, Long Term Evolution ranges of between 600 megahertz (Mhz) to 6 Ghz. And also 24 to 86 Ghz, with superfast data rates expected of 20 gigabits per second inside the latter group of millimetre bands.

The problem with the 5G signal at this bandwidth is although it’s line of sight, there are power losses and therefore economic losses, requiring signal relaying transceivers to be mounted at least 150 metres apart. Greater distances between multi-antenna masts would give better coverage. Taller, wider  masts are now proposed, which would provide economic benefits to telecoms companies.  As of April 2021, 25 metres in height was the legal, upper  limit for newly installed masts in the UK.

Crucially, the higher the frequency – in this case up to 86 Ghz (Gigahertz) – the lower the signal range. And this is where 30-metre spaced eight to ten-metre street lighting columns or lampposts come in. Presumably a large proportion of the EE roll-out and other subsequent ones will sooner rather than later involve the use of tall buildings, independently installed masts and millions – yes, millions – of council lampposts. On average, eight and ten-metre tall main road lampposts have an approximate 30-metre design spacing. In the future, one in every five main road lampposts is likely to feature a 5G boosting transceiver.

Council / Telecoms negotiations

I’d envisage that negotiations between local authorities and telecoms companies – particularly BT and EE – have either reached a very advanced stage or are now concluded.

The problem here is the officials involved in these negotiations are unelected senior officers who preside over councils’ highways and finance departments. These are back office people who can and often do act beyond public oversight. They will be briefed by elected councillors – or so we are told – to obtain the best technical and financial deals for the public. Over the last few years, negotiations have been taking place between these officers and technical / finance directors of the various telecoms companies. Councils are on the public record, displaying their reluctance to release and make public not just the minutes of these negotiations, but anything related to 5G plans and proposals.

In 2019, the Information Rights department at Gateshead Council gave a particularly alarming email response to Freedom of Information campaigner Alan Dransfield:

“Please refer to the email sent to you by Gateshead Council on 23 January 2019 in which the Council stated that we are treating any requests regarding 5G as being part of a campaign, vexatious under section 14(1) of the Act. On this basis, we will not be responding to your request.”

It gets complicated

Here’s a link to an article in the Guardian newspaper. It often contains business and technology news which is covered very well, and done without any recourse to the accustomed political fakery that the Guardian seems to involve itself in. Here, we see a disgruntled council spokesperson claiming, “We must give our residents equal opportunities”. I’d argue it’s not a case of ‘must’ – because councils have absolutely NO statutory duty to achieve that and can only use their power where street lighting and the equipment attached to lampposts is concerned.

And now, the crux of this article. As the provision of public street lighting is a power and not a duty, when a local authority agrees to make its lighting stock available for dual-purpose use, that of enabling a technologically advanced, although thoroughly dubious, non-safety tested telecommunications network – which is invisibly zapping out microwaves in all directions, often at high power – then matters get quite complicated.

Councils’ public pledges

Local authorities, be they County, Unitary, District or Parish Councils, all have one thing in common; a constitution. We should examine these online documents for all local councils across the United Kingdom, find the public pledges they’ve made and hold their feet to the fire. From page 8 in the Wirral constitution for example, there’s a pledge that most local people were probably not aware of; “The council welcomes participation by its citizens in its work”. Okay? So the next time Councillor Bloggs tries to close you down or fob you off, hold his feet to the fire and quote it back at him.

Power, not duty

As for the power and duty thing, how can a council potentially say to you as a citizen, in the near future, that they have a duty to help citizens achieve superfast 5G connection speeds if the equipment they’re talking about is mounted on a lamppost which they had absolutely no duty to install?

That’s very important.

Radio Frequency (RF) has been determined a potential carcinogen by the World Health Organisation.

That’s a fact. And at the business end of all this, down on street level, you may be unlucky enough to live on a main road, have an 8 or 10-metre lamppost out the front, and end up with a 5G transceiver fitted to its lantern. The radio frequency signal emerging from this 24/7 may not breach walls, but it will stream through the glass of your windows and bounce around inside the room.

If your baby or toddler is put to bed for 10 to 12 hours every night in the vicinity of a 5G microwave emitting, street lighting, lantern-mounted transceiver, i.e. between three and five metres away from it, and your baby or toddler develops a cancer, did the council exceed their power by agreeing to have the offending 5G transceiver fitted on top of a streetlighting lantern which very importantly, they had no duty to install?

That is crucial.

Currently, it seems to me that councils may want it both ways, i.e. no responsibility in law for failing to maintain their lighting equipment, and then the facility to rebuff any potential claims should personal injury cases arise connected to the retro-fitting of non-safety tested, potentially hazardous 5G infrastructure. I’d imagine that council highways directors are being carried along on the stream, but are privately worried about a potential landslide of legal cases related to the sheer proximity of 5G transceivers to their residents’ homes and workplaces given the fact that this microwave, millimetre band radiation is potentially carcinogenic and is emitted virtually non-stop.

 Let’s not forget that the telecoms industry here in the UK was given protected status right through the three long months of the first COVID19 lockdown, allowing them free rein to step it up while we were all conveniently out of the way, stuck indoors and unable to ask questions, much less, protest.

5th July 2020 Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drkSbgQl0SM

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

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