With much discussion in the news about telecoms equipment in church spires we thought we should provide some information on the electronic communications code which would control any such agreement in addition to the usual rules of landlord and tenant.
As of 28th December 2017, changes to the Electronic Communications Code came into force. These govern the rights of telecoms operators to install and maintain telecommunications equipment stored on private land and are provided for in Schedule 1 of the Digital Economy Act 2017. These changes may have a significant impact on churches – with the Church of England and Historic England recently agreeing to place mobile phone masts on their buildings in rural areas. This legislation forms part of the government’s pledge to deliver high-speed internet to everyone in the country by 2021.
Landowners should exercise caution though. Where an agreement is already in place for land to be used, service providers are now afforded extensive rights to upgrade or repair their equipment without the agreement of the site owner. The only requirements, set out in paragraphs 17(2) and 17(3) of the Schedule, are that the modifications have only a minimally adverse impact on the appearance of the land and do not interfere with its use. It has now also become more difficult for site owners to remove operators from their land. Under the revised code, site providers wishing to terminate agreements allowing access for telecommunications operators must provide notice 18 months prior to the termination of the agreement. Paragraph 32 provides that the operator may then issue a counter notice within 3 months of the service of the original notice. At a hearing, the court may determine that the operator has a statutory right to continuing operating the apparatus on the land in question. Operators may also share the apparatus with other parties and any previous agreements limiting shared access are voided by paragraph 17(5).
If you have any queries concerning this update please contact our commercial property team who will be pleased to discuss this with you further.