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Call in advice – or phone firms could walk all over you

Farming | Published:

With over 70 million mobile phone users in the UK, demand for better coverage means network providers need access to land to operate their masts.

Shaun Jones of Halls

The Electronic Communications Code came into force in 2017 regulating the relationships between telecom operators and landowners. As a result, telecom providers had new rights to gain access to agricultural and greenfield land, the equipment they use, as well as how they share it with other mobile network suppliers.

With new rights over access, operators are frequently attempting to renegotiate rents for existing mast sites downwards to reflect the land’s agricultural value for a small site.

As well as rental value, many other aspects of the code are ambiguous and open to interpretation, even two years after it came into force. There has been an amount of case law as a result where landowners have tested their rights.

While I’m keen to see better mobile coverage in rural areas, it’s important fair terms are agreed. Operators need to be more realistic about the sums they are offering landowners and it is possible to negotiate where it is possible to review rates during existing lease terms.

In one recent case I increased a site rent from £2,800 to £5,500 on behalf of a landowner north of Shrewsbury.

Halls reports that when the initial lease has expired many operators are initially offering around £100 per year, then subsequently make a better offer of around £1,500 but threaten taking the matter to tribunal is it isn’t accepted.

However, the Shrewsbury-based company has evidence of other uses of small areas of land at £3,000 per year, double that offered by the operators.

We have also had recent approaches for new mast sites where £250 per year is initially offered. The operators’ agents aren’t the problem. It’s been suggested total rents for all sites across the UK are around £80 million per year. The operators want to grind theses down to save themselves millions of pounds.

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As a landowner, what should you do if you receive a letter from a network provider regarding the erection of a new mast or requesting a reduction in the annual rent?

My tips are:

1) Write to the operator for confirmation that they will cover your costs of seeking professional advice.

2) Contact a professional expert, like Halls, for advice about your rights. Operators are taking a very hard line and are threatening tribunals to set the rent. The operators will walk all over you if you let them. The legislation refers to market value and ‘willing’ parties, encouraging agreement between the parties.

Shaun Jones of Halls

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