Disputes between telecoms operators and landowners over rent put roll out of 5G at risk, say lawyers


The outcome of legal disputes heard at the Upper Land Tribunal between telecoms operators and landowners over rents is putting the roll out of 5G in the UK at risk, says EMW, the law firm.

EMW says that legal disputes are coming to the surface as a result of the new Electronic Communications Code which came into force in 2017, which effectively lowered the rents payable by operators to landowners. This, along with 1954 Act and other issues, has led to opposition by many landowners, who believe they are being short-changed by operators, to the siting of 5G masts and the rents paid.

It is these lengthy legal proceedings which are creating delays to site upgrades. The legal disputes, heard at the Upper Land Tribunal, are being severely delayed due to a lack of resources within the tribunal system. The earliest appeal cases are to be heard is likely to be next year. Operators and landowners are awaiting the outcome of those appeals before either negotiating renewal terms or deciding to sever the working relationship.

EMW says to address this bottleneck, there needs to be greater collaboration and compromise between operators and landowners, ensuring that both parties receive a fair deal over rents, if the UK is to deliver the huge overhaul of mobile infrastructure needed.

One suggestion has been that landowners should be given proper compensation for use of their land in order to incentivise them to sign deals with operators.

Why do landowners feel they aren’t getting the right rent?

The Electronic Communications Code (ECC) was set up by the Government to reduce costs and speed up the deployment of mobile infrastructure but is simply not working. The ECC has a new valuation system, where rents are now based on the value of the land itself, rather than the value of the land to the operators. This has enabled operators to pay significantly lower rents for the land.

5G technology is expected to significantly boost UK competitiveness and create significant numbers of new jobs across the tech sector. However, 5G requires a huge amount of infrastructure development. It is estimated that 400,000 additional masts are needed to deliver the rollout across the UK, as well as a large number of upgrades made to existing equipment.

If progress on the rollout of 5G is not made soon, the UK could see productivity fall even further behind other countries such as the US, France and Germany.

5G technology is worth an estimated £198bn to the UK economy and will provide a wide range of benefits to both individuals and businesses. The technology will open up a host of opportunities for businesses as a result of improvements to capacity, reduction in delays and the subsequent impact on the internet of things (IoT).

Victoria Dobson, Legal Director at EMW, says: “Growing friction between landowners and operators is definitely hindering progress on the roll out of 5G technology.”

“The Speed up Britain campaign, which has just been launched, calls for urgent reform to be made to the ECC by Government in order that next generation mobile technology can be progressed. It is hoped that such reforms will enable agreements to be reached for telecom infrastructure upgrades, as was the intention of the ECC.”

“It might be the case that, to some degree, landowners have to ‘take one for the team’ if the UK is going to achieve its 5G ambitions.”

“With appeal cases not expected to be heard at the Upper Land Tribunal until next year, more collaboration now is needed to move things along, with more compromise on the rents paid.”

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