The new Electronic Communications Code came into force in December 2017, and this regulates the relationship between network operators and landowners in the UK. It covers the installation and maintenance of communications equipment. The new Code was introduced largely at the behest of network operators who wish flexibility for the use and sharing of equipment, facilitating consolidation of the market. The operators saw the old Code as being too generous in its operation for landowners, giving a disproportionate return for small and miscellaneous bits of property (rooftops, woods, and corners of fields).
The new Code gives significant rights to the operators. The landowner now has limited opportunity to recover possession, or control as to how the site is used and shared. Of more particular concern is that the financial provisions underpinning the rent has changed to one based on the Market Value of the landowner’s property, disregarding the site having a telecommunications use. A site of some 10m x 10m which might otherwise have a rental value of say £5,000 per annum, with a mast, may now be regarded as having a market rent of £50 per annum or less if the new provisions are taken literally.
The agreements which are currently due for renewal are those for which the network operators are seeking to agree new terms, and indeed, the rental provisions proposed are in line with the example above. Unsurprisingly most landowners consider this to be wholly unacceptable. The new Code was supposed to reduce the friction between landowner and operator, but the consequence appears now to be a greater disagreement between the parties.
Sheldon Bosley Knight are advising some clients to consider selling their sites. There are a limited number of companies who have significant portfolios of telecommunication mast sites, and reasonable values for sale or long lease can still be achieved. It is anticipated that where an individual landowner might be reluctant to pursue a case through to a Tribunal hearing, where there is so much uncertainty, those companies with a significant portfolio of sites will justify the cost of taking a case against an operator. The parties being on a more equal footing and thereby the mast site owner has significantly greater power in the market place.
If you are a Landowner with a mobile phone mast and would wish to explore possibilities for sale, Sheldon Bosley Knight would be pleased to make the arrangements. Contact our team on 01608 661666 for more information.