Landowners who accommodate mobile masts on their land have recently responded to a survey describing a substantial drop in received rental payments.
Although something of an eyesore, not to mention an inconvenience, these masts were once a good source of income for landowners. In recent years, however, the needs of the public have eclipsed the rights of landowners and the UK’s digital infrastructure has now become a priority for the government, culminating in the Electronics Communication Code 2017 which is drafted very much in favour of the mobile operators.
The survey, conducted by the Country Land and Business Association, concerned the following matters:
The value of rent was found to have dropped on average by 77%. It has always been a fine balancing act between the benefits of landowner and the operator but this marks a sharp dip in favour of the operator.
Many landowners will have their leases protected under the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 – which effectively means that existing leases may ‘roll over’ under statutory provisions relating to automatic renewal. However, even these leases will soon be determined by the passing of the Product Security and Telecoms Infrastructure Act 2022. The cumulative intention of the legislation is clear: that the tide has now turned in favour of public interest in the provision of digital communications, which overrides private interest.
Window for Negotiations
Code agreements frequently offer an incentive payment for the conclusion of an ‘early’ agreement with a deadline often set for 28 days. In practice, however, the average length of negotiation was 18 months – some cases have even dragged on for up to three years.
One of the unfortunate repercussions of this tipping of the balance in favour of the operators is a marked increase in the operators using more robust and occasionally aggressive measures in their negotiations, which is unwelcome news for all sides. An attempt to redress this has been introduced by the new 2022 act by way of a process of alternative dispute resolution. This will be based on a new Code of Practice from Ofcom.
In conclusion, although it is clear that digital infrastructure is a vital national priority, if the UK is to subsist in the modern world, the needs of landowners cannot be overlooked, and in the future we would hope that a fair balance should be attained.