Laws of the land
Landowners should be aware of future changes to laws governing telecoms operators, says Kary Withers
The Law Commission has issued a consultation paper on the electronic communications code. Reforms are not likely to be implemented until at least 2015, but land-owning social landlords that are concerned about telecoms operators being granted rights over their land, or already have telecoms equipment on their land, need to make representations to the commission before 28 October.
There are some proposals which are potentially detrimental to landowners, particularly those which have existing telecoms sites. It is, for example, proposed that the fees payable to landowners be based on an assumption that the land has no general market or demand. Sites are currently valued in part by reference to how important they are to the network provider. This could potentially devalue existing sites and provide only nominal rents for future sites.
It has also proposed that all telecoms operators should have a statutory right to upgrade, share and assign their telecoms rights regardless of the terms within a lease. This would mean landowners have far less control over their property and unlimited equipment could be placed on a site at no additional rent.
Some recommendations include measures that would give property owners the right to remove apparatus in certain circumstances. Under the code as planned, a landowner will have to prove that it is ‘necessary’ for apparatus to be removed, which is often difficult. The commission makes a proposal that apparatus protected by the code should not be protected by the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. There has been great debate on this and it is unfair on landowners to have to jump through two hoops to obtain possession.
Kary Withers is a partner at Clarke Willmott