Justine Ball, real estate disputes associate at Shakespeare Martineau
The long-awaited reformed Electronic Communications Code arrived under the radar on 28 December. The new legislation, in development for a few years, affects all telecoms lettings and has drastically changed the relationship dynamic between telecoms operators and landowners.
But what’s new and, in particular, what can landowners do to help relocate apparatus on their property which is blocking redevelopment plans?
The legislation applies to all existing and new agreements created after the 28 December. A Code of Practice accompanies the new Code, which sets out a framework for operators and landowners, outlining the principles of engagement and containing draft notices and standard terms under the new agreement.
It’s widely agreed across the industry that rent payments will decrease under the new Code, as sites are now assessed on a “no-scheme” basis which effectively means it will discount the value of the land for siting telecoms apparatus.
The opportunity for mast sharing and upgrading apparatus has also increased dramatically, as future restrictions on sharing, assigning or upgrading apparatus have been removed. However, landowners with existing agreements that include provisions that forbid these activities will remain in place.
Landowners planning to redevelop their sites should note the new timelines for terminating leases to seek possession of land under the new Code. Under the new legislation, landowners and operators have a strict 18-month process to follow once grounds for termination and notices have been served. Each party must act at defined points along this process, meaning that whilst it is a rather protracted timeframe, the process is likely to encourage discussions between the parties.
For example, an operator is far more likely to vacate if they have a suitable, alternative site to relocate to. Landowners should consider whether they are able to offer an alternative, permanent location themselves, and if not whether they can offer a temporary ‘peripheral’ site during the redevelopment to provide operators with the time required to either move to an alternative, permanent site or be re-housed once the redevelopment is complete.
If landowners are unable to offer any alternative location, forming connections with neighbours and tasking a telecoms surveyor with finding other suitable local sites for apparatus can sometimes make the negotiation process run far smoother.
With the power more so in operators’ hands under the new Code, landowners looking to redevelop cannot afford to sit back. Understanding available options, planning ahead and getting the right advice at the earliest opportunity will all help reduce the risks of disputes with telecoms operators getting in the way of redevelopment plans.