OCTOBER PROFESSIONAL PONDERINGS
I want to start by saying how nice it is to be back at Bletsoes following my placement year in 2017/2018. Having popped into the market a few times since returning it has been good to see all the same faces, and also a few new friendly faces – in particular the new additions to the market team! I’ve been given the great honour of writing this months’ ponderings. Since I’ve been back, I have become involved with telecom masts. At one stage, everybody wanted one, as they often produced a decent rent for a relatively small area. Fast forward to 2019, and it is a very different picture, and here is why:
The law governing telecom mast leases was changed significantly when The Digital Economy Act 2017 was introduced in December 2017; giving greater powers to mast operators. The new statutory rules are known as “The Code” and set out the rights of operators to enter land to install, erect or maintain their equipment.
The Code has sought to bring the powers of telecom operators in line with the powers enjoyed by other essential utilities such as water and electricity. This is because telecommunications are now seen as an indispensable service to the public, and therefore operators should not have to battle with landowners in order to install and maintain vital equipment. Consequently, telecom operators now have the ability to refer the matter to court, if a landowner is refusing to enter into a telecom lease agreement. Therefore, you should be mindful when dealing with operators to keep written communication records and to seek to maintain a good working relationship.
Although mast operators do have increased powers, this does not give them total freedom. It is important that proposed terms are carefully analysed to ensure you don’t assign undue powers to the operators. Indeed, we have seen examples of leases drafted by the operators which try to over step The Code powers.
The Code has changed the way rent (aka ‘consideration’) for mast sites is assessed – which unfortunately for many landowners may mean that the rent they receive from a mast will decrease substantially; in some instances, we have seen a proposed rent reduction of 75%. Whilst a reduction in rent is to be expected due to the changes made to The Code, a recent court case judgement has confirmed that the paltry sums being offered by some mast operators is not sufficient consideration for landowners to grant new leases. However, each agreement must be judged individually, which means that a one size fits all policy really won’t work with these leases. Just because your neighbour has agreed a mast rent at one level, does not mean that the site on your land will produce the same income.
On a similar note, many of you may be aware that the Government has assigned millions of pounds to upgrade the rural broadband network, which will hopefully mean that rural homes and businesses will benefit from a better broadband connection. In order to facilitate this, you may have companies, such as Gigaclear, Openreach or Virgin Media, wishing to lay cabling on your land. Again, these statutory undertakers have the right to refer the matter to the courts. Their willingness to do that will depend on whether they are coming across your land to connect properties ‘down the line’, or where they are only connecting your property, our experience is that they are unlikely to force the issue. With that said, do bear in mind that in some cases consenting to the works could mean your property is connected to a better broadband service at not monetary cost to you. If you are approached to have this type of cabling through your farm, it is worth fully considering the proposal, and as always, we are more than happy to help.
I look forward to meeting more of you at the upcoming Fat Stock Shows and Dinners, which are creeping up on us as we approach the end of 2019.
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