Q: Several years ago, my father agreed to lease out land in one of our fields to a telecoms company for the erection of a mast. That lease agreement is now coming to an end and as I have taken over the farm, I do not wish to renew it as the new terms they are offering are considerably less favourable than previously. Can you advise me how I would go about getting rid of the mast?
A: In 2017 the legislation relating to telecoms masts changed with the introduction of the Electronic Communications Code. Prior to this, a landowner could refuse to rent out land for the erection of a mast. Now, because mobile phone and broadband coverage is considered as essential as utilities such as water and electricity, telecoms operators can apply to the court to impose an agreement on the landowner without their consent.
Worse still, operators are now trying to get away with offering just a fraction of the rental fees they used to be prepared to pay, in respect of both new agreements and renewals. In the case of existing masts, unless the operator fails to make the rental payments, or the site is awarded planning permission for an alternative project, it is extremely difficult to get a mast removed.
There is no doubt that the new legislation favours the operator, and you should seek legal advice about removal of the mast or the renewal of your lease agreement. What is in your favour, however, is that you are entitled to get your legal fees paid for by the operator, to help reach an agreement if the rent offer is too low or there is a dispute between you. Some operators have been known to offer annual rent in the low hundreds instead of the several thousand pounds a year they should be generating for landowners.
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