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New Telecoms Code: What farmers and rural landowners need to know

The reformed Electronic Communications Code arrived under the radar towards the end of 2017 and has significant impacts that come with it – most importantly, it has drastically changed the shift of power from the landowner to the telecoms operator. 

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The new code seeks to substantially increase nationwide connectivity, making it more difficult for rural landowners to remove operators from their land, which can be particularly problematic if new redevelopment projects are on the horizon.

 

However, this doesn’t mean that construction projects have to be put on hold; there are still options available.

 

Landowners looking to redevelop or build on land with telecoms apparatus in place must not forget that they still have rights to terminate agreements and negotiate terms of new ones with operators.

 

But what steps must be taken to ensure any telecoms apparatus that is situated on their land, doesn’t prevent their redevelopment plans?


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Step one – understand the legislation and how it impacts you

 

The legislation applies to all existing and new agreements created after the December 28, 2017.

 

A Code of Practice accompanies the new code, which sets out a framework for operators and landowners, outlining the principles of engagement, draft notices and standard terms under the new agreement.

 

To avoid any delays to ambitious redevelopment plans, negotiations with operators must start at the earliest opportunity.

 

 

Step two – find out who is operating from apparatus on your land

 

Restrictions on sharing, assigning or upgrading apparatus have been removed under the new code.

 

This means the opportunity for mast sharing and upgrading apparatus has also increased dramatically.

 

However, for landowners with existing agreements in place that include provisions that forbid mast sharing, will remain in place.

Justine Ball, real estate disputes associate and telecoms specialist
Justine Ball, real estate disputes associate and telecoms specialist

Step three – recalculate your financial gain

 

It’s widely recognised across the industry that rent payments will decrease under the new code, as sites are now assessed on a “no-scheme” basis.

 

This means it will discount the value of the land for siting telecoms apparatus.

 

This could have a serious impact for anyone considering whether incorporating apparatus into future redevelopments is a viable option.

 

 

Step four – start the process early

 

Landowners planning to redevelop their sites should note the new timelines for terminating leases to seek possession of land under the new code.

 

Under the new legislation, landowners and operators have a strict 18-month process to follow once grounds for termination and notices have been served.

 

Each party must act at defined points along this process, meaning that whilst it is a rather protracted timeframe, the process is likely to encourage discussions between the parties.

 

For those working in conjunction with developers, this will mean planning ahead and starting the process long before construction begins on the site.

 

 

Step five – seek alternative locations for apparatus

 

An operator is far more likely to vacate if they have a suitable alternative site to relocate to.

 

Agricultural landowners may be able to offer an alternative, permanent location on the property themselves; if not they may be able to find a temporary ‘peripheral’ site during redevelopment to provide operators with the time required to either move to an alternative, permanent site or be re-housed once the redevelopment is complete.

 

It may be possible to seek an alternative location on neighbouring land or by tasking a telecoms surveyor to find another suitable site.

 

Understanding available options, planning ahead and getting the right advice at the earliest opportunity will all help reduce the risk of disputes with telecoms operators and stop unwanted delays to redevelopment plans.

  • Justine Ball, real estate disputes associate and telecoms specialist at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau.
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