Why am I being forced to accept a mast on my land?

19 March 2024

Everybody wants 5G and superfast broadband, right?

In theory, yes. We all love being able to download and listen to music on the train, watch Netflix in our hotel room or FaceTime our distant friends and family. Superfast broadband and mobile data/call coverage is now part of our daily life, and there are huge benefits.

However, if you are a landowner, you may not be so keen when you are faced with an approach by a telecommunications company (be it a mobile phone or a broadband provider for example) to install their unsightly equipment on your land.

Changes in the law

The law changed in this regard recently, and the backdrop to those changes was a desire to roll out superfast telecommunications infrastructure around the country. Put simply, our collective desire to access online information and make telephone calls either at home or on the go is growing at such a pace that our existing infrastructure would struggle to cope without being updated and expanded.

Unlike normal commercial leases therefore – where ‘it takes two to tango’ –telecommunications companies can make an application to the Property Tribunal to force a lease upon the landowner. The telecommunications company becomes a very willing tenant, but there is often an unwilling landlord in the shape of a landowner who had no idea these rules existed.

Lease terms

The terms of such lease – generally speaking – will be highly favourable to the telecommunications provider for the reasons set out earlier in this note. It is very hard to remove them once they are there. They will have wide powers not only to install apparatus on site, but to enter the land and update it as time goes by. Some restrictions that can usually be drafted to favour landlords in normal commercial leases may not apply at all in a telecommunications lease. Further complications arise with existing telecommunications leases where there is a clash between the new rules and the old.

I regularly act for landowners who are greeted with a substantial and confusing dossier of information received from a telecommunications provider or their agent. Often that approach arrives out of the blue. It is a confusing and baffling time for a landowner; particularly those who simply thought their land would forever remain untouched until they agreed otherwise.

In the first instance the telecommunications provider usually wishes to carry out a site visit (called a ‘Multi Skilled Visit’ or ‘MSV’ for short) to assess whether the land is suitable for their purposes. If the landowner refuses to allow that visit to take place, again the provider can apply to the Property Tribunal to force them to allow it.

If having carried out that visit the provider decides not to proceed, then that will almost certainly be the end of the matter. But if they consider the site suitable for their needs, and they do wish to proceed, things can move very quickly. Tight deadlines are commonplace. The risks of missing a deadline to respond, for example, are significant.

Equally, many telecommunications providers offer incentives to landlords to commit to an early resolution. A willing landowner can therefore benefit by moving quickly. On that basis, specialist property dispute advice should be sought at the earliest possible stage in order to assess the strength of the telecommunications provider’s position as against the potential benefits of agreeing to a lease.

I can remember buying my first iPhone in 2007, and at the time it either used WiFi or Edge. Nowadays, if we are ‘stuck’ with 4G it feels sluggish. In summary, superfast telecommunications equipment is here to stay, and the speed of change feels as fast as the service it delivers.

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