Communications Code in the UK: A Real Threat to Landowners?
By Liam A. Entwistle, Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP
The Electronic Communications Code came into force in the UK on 28 December 2017 (“the Code”), replacing the previous code. The stated purpose of the Code is to further the public interest in the provision of high-quality telecoms network within the UK. The Code provides the framework for the installation, regulation, and removal of telecoms apparatus, and gives telecoms operators access to sweeping powers to force landowners to do what operators consider is in their commercial interests.
Operators will, as a first step, seek to enter into agreements with occupiers and landowners to site telecoms apparatus – such as masts and bases, poles, cables, and ancillary buildings – on their land. Operators will also seek to vary existing agreements to reflect the provisions of the Code. Invariably, operators will seek to impose restrictions on the mast site and the surrounding land, including access, and will also insist on almost unrestricted rights to upgrade and share the apparatus.
Operators will only propose a modest rent, based on principles which exclude any accounting of the mast being a necessary part of a larger scheme.
The Code provides powers to specialist UK Courts to impose these types of code agreements on the occupiers of land, and to vary existing agreements, in order to align them with the new code.
Operators will seek the widest applications of the rights set out in the code – access, restrictions on development over the surrounding area, tree lopping, assignment of rights, upgrading and site sharing – all in the name of the public interest in high quality telecoms provision. They will ask the court to impose the lowest possible rent, based on an alternative-use analysis. This essentially puts compulsory purchase powers in the hands of operators, and the defences to such an application are very narrowly stated.
Landowners approached by operators will find considerable burdens placed upon their land, for minimal compensation.
Liam A. EntwistleGGI member firm
Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP
Law Firm Services
Glasgow, Scotland, UK
T: +44 141 248 3434
Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP are an independent Scottish Law firm offering the full range of corporate, dispute resolution, and private client services. They are GGI’s sole Scottish member.
Liam A. Entwistle is a dispute resolution and labour law solicitor based in Glasgow, Scotland and as well as acting for large corporates, he has considerable expertise in solving employment and other disputes for and within family businesses. Liam is also an Accredited Workplace Mediator and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.
Published: Real Estate Newsletter, No. 13, Summer 2021 l Photo: Stephen Davies - stock.adobe.com