Land and property owners should refuse to sign any templated telecoms agreement for siting a mobile phone mast or other communications infrastructure on their property after the new Telecoms Code takes effect on 28 December 2017, advises Strutt & Parker.
Robert Paul, one of the UK’s leading experts on the telecoms market, says he fears the terms of any such agreement could leave site providers at a significant disadvantage, so it is more important than ever to seek professional advice if approached by an operator.
Mr Paul, director in Strutt & Parker’s Shrewsbury office, said mobile phone operators have been trying to agree a standard lease document with the input of a body of landowners’ representatives ahead of the new code coming into force.
“They argue that this will simplify the process of getting agreements in place, which will help them as they try to speed up the rollout of mobile and broadband services.
“However, given the NFU, CLA and other industry bodies have recently withdrawn from the process, it is likely that any agreement will be one-sided in favour of the operators and not a true reflection of what rights the code actually gives to them.
“In our view, the concept of a standard agreement for telecoms sites is flawed anyway. The industry does not operate on standard lease terms now – it never has done, and there is no reason why it should start happening now.”
Mr Paul said he had already seen indications that operators intend to take a more aggressive approach to the acquisition and handling of sites once the new code takes effect, so it is vital that site providers are aware of their rights under the new arrangements.
“The operators interpret the code in a very different way to how we would. For example, the new code does aim to make it easier for operators to upgrade and share their equipment with other operators to help increase coverage. But this does not mean that an operator has unfettered rights under the new code to add equipment installed on a site, much as operators would like people to believe that. The code does give them greater powers, but they have to jump through a number of hoops first.”
Mr Paul added: “There is also the issue of rents which we do not see tumbling in the way the operators predict. Strutt & Parker’s most recent telecoms survey showed that the average greenfield rent for a mobile phone mast was £6,000/yr, but CTIL are suggesting payments based on compensation only and paying just a few thousand pounds as a one-off payment for a long-term lease.
“Landowners, particularly those in remote rural areas, are as keen as anyone to see improved mobile and broadband connections, but they cannot be expected to sign up without question to agreements that could have a significant impact on their normal business operations.
“It is important that site providers are aware that even though the new Telecoms Code does give the operators greater powers, landowners still have the right to negotiate around the terms of any agreement. If approached by an operator asking to inspect a potential site, we would advise property owners to agree terms first before granting entry.
“Those with existing telecoms equipment on their property should also carefully consider their position following the introduction of the new code.”
Telecoms site providers can include urban property owners, churches, charities, schools, local authorities, as well as farmers and landowners.
Mr Paul explained: “The new code poses considerable difficulties for landowners of rooftop sites in that, regardless of the terms of any agreement in place, 18 months’ notice will now be required to obtain vacant possession and this will now only be given in certain limited circumstances such as redevelopment of the building.
“Purchasers of property will need to ensure sufficient due diligence is carried out during conveyancing to establish whether any telecommunications right affect the property. Unfortunately, a reform of the registration regime has not been included in the new code. Agreements will be overriding interests capable of binding successors in title even where they haven’t been registered. If there is a telecoms interest this is likely to affect value and this may lead to delays and increased costs in conveyancing.”