Landowners are being warned of the hidden risks and responsibilities associated with having telecommunications masts on their land.
The Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (CAAV) is urging landowners to request information on radiation exclusion zones from operators of telecoms masts located on their land.
Though non-ionising, significant levels of exposure to the radio waves emitted by base stations on telecoms masts can affect health, requiring exclusion zones to protect people, says Jeremy Moody, secretary and adviser to the CAAV. With the roll out of 5G, these exclusion zones will be expanded significantly as the range of potentially dangerous radio waves is far greater than for 4G.
Although guidelines for these exclusion zones; set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation (ICNIRP), are mandatory in the UK, mast operators are only required to self-certificate compliance when they make a planning application. The government does not require operators to give details of zones to those they affect.
The guidelines state that exclusion zones for workers and the public should be mapped by the operator. Exclusion zones are typically governed by the direction of the mast and the power being used, and are usually above ground level, with height exclusion depending on the height of the antennae. However, there is no requirement for operators to notify owners, site neighbours or the public of these areas.
“Usually, that means that nobody but the operator knows the areas in which people might be at risk and so cannot manage liabilities,” says Mr Moody. Ofcom, the industry regulator, has no duties related to exposure to electromagnetic field emissions.
When applying for planning permission for a larger mast, operators are only required to confirm the mast will comply with ICNIRP guidelines and do not have to disclose the exclusion boundaries; meaning that neither the owner nor the planning authority is able to assess the effect of the mast on buildings, land or other activities.
Furthermore, not even this declaration is required where the mast is within permitted development rights. Similarly, where a mast is upgraded from 4G to 5G, the operator does not have to make this declaration or even highlight the increased size of exclusion zones.
For landowners, this means there can be unforeseen issues with buildings, which could be within the exclusion zone unbeknown to the site owner, potentially putting workers or visitors at risk.
It can limit the construction of new buildings both on the site owner’s land and on neighbouring sites, as an exclusion zone can extend beyond a site’s boundaries. However, the landowner and the planning office are unlikely to be aware of the extent of the exclusion zone.
“Landowners may also find themselves in a difficult situation whereby existing buildings are made redundant by exclusion zones,” says Mr Moody. “As landowners are not permitted to request the removal of apparatus from their land on these grounds, this could potentially cause costly issues whether sterilising the use of land or carrying liability.”
“In addition, providing a safe working environment for employees is a legal requirement of any employer, so any landowner with employees needs to take account of potential hazards for those working,” he adds. It’s therefore important to obtain full ICNIRP drawings and site-specific radio frequency plans so that the exclusion zone can be understood and to comply with legal obligations.
“It’s also important to ask for information on any upgrades to the mast, such as from 4G to 5G,” advises Mr Moody. “Should an operator refuse to supply this information to the site provider, this should be cause for concern.”
Many older agreements passed responsibilities to the landowner, often without their knowledge, so it’s vital if negotiating a new agreement that landowners are aware of the issues. Terms should hold the operator fully liable for losses and claims arising from the mast, he explains.
Additionally, site owners may wish to stipulate contractual terms restricting the expansion of exclusion zones, require the site to be switched off for the landowner or others to carry out work within the exclusion zone and make operators liable for any necessary staff training.
“Landowners may be entirely unaware of the situations they are in, which could lead to all sorts of issues down the line,” warns Mr Moody. “It may be a shocking revelation to a lot of people and I would suggest getting advice and taking action if you are affected.”