The UK Government has launched a consultation on the Regulations to accompany the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act 2021 ("the Act"). The Act amends the Electronic Communications Code ("the Code"), which was reformed in 2017 with the aim of improving digital connectivity by making it easier and cheaper for telecoms operators to install equipment. The Act extends the rights of operators in particular circumstances (as detailed below), further developing the government policy to improve connectivity.

The Act envisages a situation where a tenant in a block of flats (or any building which contains two or more separate homes) has requested an electronic communications service for the building, and the telecoms operator has written to the landlord seeking permission to access the building and install equipment. If the landlord fails to respond to multiple written requests for access, the operator may apply to the court for interim rights of access to the building to install the equipment.

The maximum period for the interim rights is 18 months, and the intention is that within that period the landlord and operator will either reach an agreement, or the operator will apply to the Lands Tribunal to have permanent Code rights imposed.

It should be noted that such interim rights will only be granted where the landlord has given no response to the operator's requests. If the landlord responds to refuse the operator rights of access, or acknowledges the request, they cannot then apply to the court for interim rights.

The consultation paper is in two sections, and seeks views on:-

  1.   the terms of the Regulations to accompany the Act; and
  2.   extending the scope of the Act to cover to other premises.

Regulations to accompany the Act

The consultation paper includes proposed terms to be included in an order made under the Act. These terms include:

  • Operators sending the landlord detailed plans of the works at least 5 days before the works take place, and giving notice of their intention to enter the property;
  • Operators must obtain all necessary consents, permits, licences, permissions, authorisations and approvals;
  • Limiting works times to between 9:30am and 6:30pm Monday – Friday (except in case of emergency);
  • Requiring the works to be undertaken on a principle of 'least possible damage', and including provisions to ensure works are carried out by qualified individuals to a reasonable professional standard;
  • Requiring operators to return the property to as near as possible its original condition once the works are completed;
  • Requiring operators to have suitable insurance cover to a minimum of £5,000,000;
  • Operators having the right to re-enter the premises for maintaining and upgrading equipment; and
  • The interim rights expiring after 18 months (the maximum period permitted under the Act).

    Extending the scope of the Act to cover other premises

    At the moment, the Act only applies to 'multiple dwelling buildings' (e.g. blocks of flats), however the Act does include powers for the scope of the Act to be extended via regulations to cover other types of property. The consultation paper seeks views on this, in particular extending the scope to include commercial premises such as office blocks and business parks. They also seek suggestions of types of property that would benefit from being included.

    Responding to the consultation paper

    The Government are particularly looking for input from landowners, operators, and those who have agreed/will agree in the future for such equipment to be installed on their property. While the proposals are likely to be welcomed by operators, landowners may have concerns regarding the extent of operators' rights, and the possibility of them being further extended to commercial premises in the future.

    The deadline for submitting responses to the consultation is 4 August 2021.

    Contributor

    Scott Logan

    Legal Director