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Problems implementing the new Electronic Communications Code dominated discussion at this year’s RICS Telecoms Forum Conference.
The packed hall was divided between operators pleading with all sides to engage with the Code and those representing owners who have become enraged at the way it is working. The result, in many cases, has been stalemate.
Wayne Clark, of Falcon Chambers, who acts for landowners, gave a run-through of recent judgements on matters such as rights of access and consideration, where the opposing parties are still very polarised.
The new Code was meant to create a better relationship between operators and landowners, Melissa Giordano, Deputy Director, mobile infrastructure and spectrum at the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sports added.
The intention had been to change the basis of valuation and grant new powers of access.
“Operators kept telling us it had to be easier to get equipment on sites. I am an optimist, but I am not naïve. We know there are fundamental disagreements still,” she said.
Giordano admitted that prices could be “really tough” on landowners but case laws were making progress in interpreting the Code.
We have to think of our industry as a vital utility and all recognise the importance of telecoms and connectivity.
Director of Property and Estate and General Counsel, CTIL
“It’s a journey. We are still getting there. It would be a shame if we saw this unwind and landowners said it isn’t worth it,” she added.
The department is considering a formal review of the new Code in 2019 and she asked for evidence to be sent in.
Belinda Fawcett, Director of Property and Estate and General Counsel at CTIL, put the case for the operators and outlined the national economic benefits of improved connectivity and 5G.
She said the biggest problem was lack of engagement and negativity which had led to stagnation, leaving operators unable to meet demand.
But she said: “If we work together we can sustain property values making it mutually beneficial. We have to think of our industry as a vital utility and all recognise the importance of telecoms and connectivity.”
She added: “Let us not pretend that under the old Code we lived in a land of milk and honey. There needs to be a recognition that the world has changed. We owe it to the next generation.”
However, Mark East, Director, Telecoms Property Consultancy Ltd, said the Code had brought less regard for the site owner with 90% reductions on valuations to as low as £50.
He said no-one would argue with the benefits of mobile coverage. “The landlord will allow equipment on his site, but not at any cost. If you are offering me nothing, then I will only give you what is strictly required by law.”
Complaints ranged from slow progress on offers of compensation and legal fees to complex calculations for valuation.
He admitted: “The market has stalled. We need less stick and more carrot. Our message is engage, don’t enrage. If you offer £50 you will put people’s backs up.”
It was Peter Williams, Technical Relationship manager, Welsh Government, who introduced the engage and enrage theme in his very well received keynote address on connectivity in Wales.
“We are about bringing people together by offering fast reliable broadband to every property in Wales,” he said and outlined cases of helping local communities build a fibre network and getting film streaming speeds to the remotest parts of mid Wales.
There were big challenges from topography and tourism demands but he quoted the late Paul Arden’s advice as a guide to how to best meet the frustrations of those without connectivity.
“It is better to engage than enrage.”
Melissa Giordano @DCMS kicks off an exceptionally strong RICS Telecoms panel session @RICSnews #RICStelecoms underlining the RICS power to 'convene' and bring industry together. Enabling the digital economy and Connectivity is the big issue for UK plc. pic.twitter.com/v9GnfQr2Yp— james kavanagh (@jkavanagh99) November 13, 2018
Land Journal Editor
Mike edits the Land Journal. Previously, he worked for 25 years on national newspapers as a reporter and on news desks and was Science and Environment editor of the Daily Mirror.