Farmers have been pulling out of telecoms agreements because of new laws which removed their right to kick network operators off their land if they did not pay rent or were found to be in breach of contract.
The rules were introduced as part of the Digital Economy Act after operators complained landowners were ‘holding them to ransom’ and making it difficult for network coverage to be extended.
But telecoms specialists at Strutt and Parker have claimed the change in law has left operators struggling to find sites and is even threatening the delivery of a new Emergency Services Network (ESN).
Robert Paul, partner at Strutt and Parkers Shrewsbury office, said: “The new code restricts the ability of a landowner to remove an operator even if the lease has been breached or the rent has not been paid.
“An operator can only effectively be removed for redevelopment, and then only after 18 months’ notice and potentially two separate court actions.
“Site providers, including farmers and landowners, are now recognising the potential impact that an agreement for electronic communications equipment on their land might have on their normal business operations.
“They are concerned about the wide powers which the operators may attempt to claim under the code.
“In rural areas, the timing for delivery of the new £1.2 billion ESN is threatened by landowners’ reluctance to agree the terms being demanded for key remote sites.”
Mr Paul pointed out operators were also making additional demands which they were not entitled to in law, such as 24-7 access rights and an automatic right to add to equipment installed on a site.
“Landowners need to be very well versed in both their rights and the rights afforded to the operators”, he added.
CLA chief economist Dr Charles Trotman, who has been lobbying the Government on this issue, told Farmers Guardian the group had managed to protect the principle of market value during the parliamentary process, but agreed other measures were negatively affecting landowners.
“We are actively discussing these issues with the industry to ensure site providers can get access to an effective mobile signal to connect up rural areas while at the same time ensuring the protection of property rights”, he said.