Scots farmers warned on dangers of incentivised mast deals

Farmers in Scotland are being warned against being rushed into signing new leases for existing mast sites, with some mobile phone operators offering additional payments to secure updated agreements.

Rural surveyor Galbraith says over recent weeks mobile phone operators have been urging farmers to commit to lease renewal terms that could prove detrimental to the landowner.

It claims some of the proposals can also be misleading, giving farmers the impression they have little choice but to sign up to new contract terms.

See also: Landowners advised to negotiate better mast deals on renewal

Mike Reid, Galbraith’s head of energy, said the firm’s advice is to seek independent advice and avoid rushing into anything.

Mobile operators are pushing farmers to sign in advance of a pending Lands Tribunal for Scotland decision on whether the mobile operators can legally demand a replacement lease under the new Electronic Communications Code.

“The Scottish Lands Tribunal is due to decide on a case that could have a direct bearing on the agreement proposed by the mobile operators and, generally speaking, farmers could agree better terms than the ones being proposed by the mobile operators,” he said.

The new leases offer significantly lower payments than the current rents received on existing sites and changes in the standard terms, such as giving up all right to future rent reviews

However, operators are offering one-off inducement payments, often in excess of £10,000, to property owners on condition they sign an agreement within the next few weeks.

Mr Reid said the letters often claimed that operators were proposing new contact terms as they needed to secure their code rights – but the reality was they already had code rights on the site.

“If you ask what rights do you need that you don’t already have under your current lease, there is normally silence,” he said.

“Any delay in agreeing new terms with the operators won’t affect mobile coverage or connectivity in the area, as the mobile operators are already operating from these sites with the protection of the code,” Mr Reid added.