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Fleeced by the phone giants
Scotland Created: 30 Dec 2019
SCOTTISH LANDOWNERS have been 'fleeced' by telecoms giants in the two years since the introduction of the UK Government's Electronic Communications Code in December 2017.

Scottish Land and Estates has accused telecom operators of taking advantage of landowners, using 'scaremongering' tactics to lead to swift leasing agreements, without encouraging them to seek professional advice. As a result, rents paid by telecoms companies to use rural land for mobile phone masts and broadband apparatus have been slashed, with some as low as £1 compared with site rents of over £10,000 just two years ago.

The code was created to facilitate the installation and maintenance of electronic communications networks, but SLaE said that it had instead produced a 'stagnation' of new sites being commissioned and low numbers of lease renewals for land with existing apparatus. In the past two years, there has been a ten-fold increase in the number of cases relating to the code going before the Lands Tribunal. There have been 77 cases brought forward in 2017-2019 compared with just five tribunal cases over the 33-year period under the old code.

The key issue is that the code has allowed operators to offer phone mast deals based on the agricultural value of the land, which becomes a tiny figure when the annual leasehold figure is calculated. The Lands Tribunal has confirmed they do not feel this was an appropriate valuation method, but SLaE state that they are still seeing operators use this method.

SLaE and NFU Scotland have set up a special telecoms forum bringing together utilities and telecoms professionals to help tackle the issues arising from the new code. Head of policy at SlaE, Stephen Young, commented: “For the past two years landowners have been fleeced by telecoms giants. They are taking a very aggressive approach to lease renewals, often using underhand tactics to scare landowners into signing agreements they do not understand the full consequences of.

"The telecoms operators are shying away from encouraging the landowner to take professional advice, which they are entitled to and should be paid for by the telecoms company," he stressed. "Many landowners don’t realise they are entitled to this and the telecoms companies are failing to offer this. The code could be really effective if telecoms operators changed their behavior,” he suggested.

NFUS' head of policy, Gemma Cooper added: “An efficient and reliable broadband and mobile network is essential for rural businesses and we welcome the upgrade and expansion of the service network.

“However, there have been problems in the roll out of this expansion that are related to the way the Electronics Communication Code is currently being interpreted by operators," she continued. "We welcome the formation of the forum to tackle issues associated with the code. Improved operator interactions with landowners, farmers and crofters will be fundamental to ensuring rural businesses and communities can thrive and reap the benefits of an improved telecoms network."
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Source: The Scottish Farmer, Gordon Davidson, 29 Dec 2019

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