Landowners urged to be cautious over phone mast agreements

Landowners are being encouraged to be prudent – and if needs be seek advice to avoid agreeing to onerous terms regarding the siting of masts on their property.

Galbraith says landowners can feel pressured into agreeing terms. Picture: contributed.

Property consultancy Galbraith – which provides services across the commercial, residential, rural, renewable energy, utility and infrastructure sectors – said mobile-phone operators are looking to agree rights to install telecommunications equipment across the UK, once virus-related restrictions are lifted.

It comes after the new Electronic Communications Code was introduced in the Digital Economy Act 2017 to modernise the UK’s telecoms infrastructure by making it easier for operators to erect and extend mobile towers.

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Galbraith said many owners with leases that started before the new Code came into effect are being approached about renewals, “and often these approaches give the impression there is no option but to agree to proposals by the telecom operators”.

Mike Reid is head of energy at the property consultancy. Picture: contributed.

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But the consultancy added that in many cases, the heads of terms proposed “constitute a significant departure from the current lease, granting more rights than operators are legally entitled to under the Code, and limiting their potential liability”.

Landowners should be cautious, according to Mike Reid, head of energy Galbraith. “After negotiation, far better terms are able to be agreed, including increasing the operators’ financial proposals for the site,” he said.

“Within many proposed lease renewal terms there isn’t any ability for the owner to review the site payment within the proposed agreement. As security of tenure is granted under the Code, landowners could be signing up to agreements in perpetuity, with no rights to review the site payment, or to claim additional compensation for any losses caused by Code rights without recourse to a potentially expensive and uncertain tribunal process.”

Seeking advice

He urged landowners to consider their position and if necessary, seek external advice before committing to operators’ proposals.

“We know from negotiating many such agreements that landowners can feel pressured into agreeing terms,” said Reid. “However, it is better to make sure any agreement which could last indefinitely is agreed on the most favourable terms from the start as changing provisions further down the line could be costly and problematic.”

Galbraith said Covid-19 has not affected the operators’ approaches for new Code agreements. Reid continued: “Landowners should be able to recover their reasonable professional fees for agreeing terms for a new code agreement… landowners should continue to seek advice despite the current restrictions.”

The consultancy has 240 staff in Scotland and the north of England in locations including Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Ayr, Blagdon, Castle Douglas, Cupar, Elgin, Galashiels, Hexham, Inverness, Kelso, Penrith, Perth and Stirling. It says it is the largest rural consultancy in the areas, managing farm, forestry, land and estate interests on more than 3.5 million acres.

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