Mobile phone mast with a stack of haybales in the foreground(c) REX/FLPA

Landowners’ ability to negotiate with phone operators could be severely weakened under new government proposals.

Amendments in the government’s Infrastructure Bill would allow the secretary of state to step in and decide what a landowner could charge an operator for site use, if negotiations stalled.

Landowners could lose out significantly as a result, as the amendments suggest the fee would be based on the value of the land and/or crops lost, rather than the value of the site to the operator.

Robert Paul, head of telecoms at Strutt & Parker, warned that with a mast site of 10x10m, this could result in a tiny fee of £20 – when normally landowners could expect to charge £5,000.

“It is wholly unjustified for ministers to impose radical changes to the law because of unfounded claims from telecoms companies arguing that landowners are charging ransom rents.”
Henry Robinson, CLA

See also: Landowners: Get the most out of a phone mast lease

In addition, the amendments would allow operators to share sites and equipment with other operators without paying the landowner any additional fee, said Mr Paul. Furthermore, they would be allowed to transfer or sell their lease rights to another operator or infrastructure company.

“There is an established market for site sharing in the UK – this is not broken. These changes will undermine that market,” said Mr Paul. 

CLA president Henry Robinson hit out at the proposals: “The proposals will allow future governments to conspire with multinational communications giants to ride roughshod over the property rights of thousands of landowners throughout rural Britain.

“It is wholly unjustified for ministers to impose radical changes to the law because of unfounded claims from telecoms companies arguing that landowners are charging ransom rents.”

The CLA attacked the proposed amendments on a number of further points:

  • The amendments were produced in complex legal language – a clear disadvantage to the average landowner, who does not have a legal team as the phone operators do
  • The document is complex and runs to 60 pages – yet the government has only allowed MPs to view it for one week before debate   
  • The government has failed to undertake a consultation ahead of the amendments  
  • The phone network has grown without these changes.

There are 55,000 telecoms sites in the UK and at least half of these are in rural areas, according to Strutt & Parker. About 60% of sites are shared. 

The Infrastructure Bill is due to be debated in parliament next week.