Posted on 26th June 2023

Telecomm Networks: A Difficult Negotiation

The Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure (PSTI) Act 2022 received Royal Assent in December last year. And now, some six months, owners of rural and agricultural land in Lincolnshire are starting to feel its impact – and it’s not for the better!

Today, the vast majority of people rely on their smartphones. Phones and access to 3, 4 or 5G networks are almost a necessity. And today, there is a significant focus on speed. How fast can we download an email attachment, can we watch a video online and, most importantly, can I make a phone call when I’m on top of the Lincolnshire Wolds?

The Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Act is well-intentioned. It aims to speed up the rollout of faster mobile phone networks. This benefits everyone. However, for agricultural land owners, entering into or renewing a lease to allow a phone network to place a mast on their land has become a lot less appealing and profitable.

Before the act received Royal Assent, the land owner and the network operator would agree on the lease terms and the rent amount based on the land’s value to the operator. Now, the PSTI act says the rent must be based on the value of the agricultural land on which the mast will be sited. In some online new stories, the rent has dropped from £6,000 per annum to less than £350!

As well as becoming less appealing financially, the PSTI Act makes it easier for network operators to share and upgrade their equipment, irrespective of when it was installed. This will dramatically lower the amount landowners can charge to install extra equipment.

There are three caveats regarding upgrading and sharing:
• That the upgrade or sharing has no adverse impact on the land.
• That the upgrade or sharing imposes no additional burden upon any person with an interest in the land.
• That the operator attaches a notice to the relevant land for a period of at least 21 days before the action.

The new act also removes the valuation upon renewal clause under the 1954 Landlord and Tenant Act. This could and probably will see drastic reductions in rent upon renewal.

Unresponsive occupiers
Should a landowner decide not to engage with network operators, the PSTI sets out a series of actions that operators must follow. If the landowner does not engage with the operator, a court order will grant the operator rights regardless.

Going to court is the last resort, and the PSTI recognises this. Operators must consider Alternative Dispute Resolution before applying to the court for a judgment.

Given that the PSTI significantly alters the balance of favour towards the network operator, there is still an income to be made from renting land to telecom companies. One thing is for sure. The need for professional advice and an experienced partner in negotiations with network operators has never been more important. We have recently assisted several Lincolnshire landowners in such situations.

If you need help negotiating with a network operator, please call Ray Phillips on 01522 696496 or email or use our contact form.

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