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Rents plummeting

Telecoms giants ‘fleecing’ landowners to build phone masts

Phone masts are commanding lower rents (pic: Free Images)

Landowners in Scotland claim they are being fleeced by telecoms operators using a scheme to boost network coverage as an excuse for slashing rents they pay for putting mobile phone masts on their land.

Average rents offered by telecoms giants to use their land for masts and broadband apparatus have plummeted from £10,000 to just £1 since a new Electronic Communications Code was introduced two years ago.

The Code was introduced by the UK Government on 28 December 2017 to speed up the installation and maintenance of phone networks. 

However, landowners accuse the telecoms operators refusing to work with them and the number of new sites being used for telecoms apparatus has stagnated.

Over the past two years there has been a tenfold increase in the number of cases going before the Lands Tribunal, relating to the code. There were 77 in 2017-2019 compared with just five over the 33-year period under the old code. 

The site payment being offered by the operator is based on the agricultural value of the land which becomes a tiny figure when the annual leasehold figure is calculated.

For the past two years landowners have been fleeced by telecoms giants.

– Stephen Young, Scottish Land & Estates

The Lands Tribunal has confirmed that it does not feel this was an appropriate valuation method.

Scottish Land & Estates and NFU Scotland have set up a special telecoms forum bringing together utilities and telecoms professionals to help tackle the issues arising from the new Code.

Stephen Young, head of policy at Scottish Land & Estates said: “For the past two years landowners have been fleeced by telecoms giants.

“They are taking a very aggressive approach to lease renewals, often using underhand tactics to scare landowners into signing agreements they do not understand the full consequences of.

“The telecoms operators are shying away from encouraging the landowner to take professional advice, which they are entitled to and should be paid for by the telecoms company.

“Many landowners don’t realise they are entitled to this and the telecoms companies are failing to offer this. The Code could be really effective if telecoms operators changed their behaviour.”

NFU Scotland head of policy, Gemma Cooper said: “An efficient and reliable broadband and mobile network is essential for rural businesses and we welcome the upgrade and expansion of the service network.

“However, there have been problems in the roll out of this expansion that are related to the way the Electronics Communication Code is currently being interpreted by operators. We welcome the formation of the forum to tackle issues associated with the Code.

“Improved operator interactions with landowners, farmers and crofters will be fundamental to ensuring rural businesses and communities can thrive and reap the benefits of an improved telecoms network.” 

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