Rollout of 5G could accelerate telecoms operators looking to use land without paying farmers and landowners the prices they may have received in the past.
Michael Watson, head of property litigation and telecoms expert at Shulmans, said farmers had previously allowed telecommunications operators to install mobile phone masts and other apparatus on their land to generate additional income.
“This free market worked well when upgrading the networks to 3G and 4G,” he said.
“However, major problems lie ahead with the roll out of 5G because the market for mast sites has effectively seized up.”
It follows the introduction of the new Electronic Communications Code in December 2017, which has impacted on the relationship between landlords and telecommunications companies.
“Since the new code came into force, telecoms operators have slashed the prices they are prepared to offer in order to be able to install their apparatus on farmland,” he said.
“Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in landowners withdrawing from the market.
“Network operators want use of landowners’ properties for business without paying much at all and if the owners do not agree, they will ask the tribunal to impose their terms regardless.”
And with the rollout of 5G imminent, this process may accelerate.
He added: “Landowners need to carefully consider whether they are prepared to make their assets available for the use of network operators, regardless of whether they are willing to defend their assets.”
Mr Watson said anyone deriving income from telecoms apparatus needed to be aware they may be targeted for significant payment reductions and could be threatened with action under the code.
He warned farmers not to wait until an approach was received from an operator to renew agreements, as the opportunity for developing an effective strategy ‘may have already been compromised’.
He added the new code and the approach of operators has alienated the people who the sector relied on and destroyed the market for mast sites.
“Until there is a fundamental change of approach by network operators, the farming industry must to face up to the reality of the new code and either accede to the demands of the operators or prepare and respond accordingly.”