From time to time, telecoms companies may need to install telephone masts that run over private land. What rights do homeowners and landowners have if this happens?

Telecoms operators have had enhanced rights to install, operate and maintain equipment on both public and private land under the Electronic Communications Code (the Code) since 2017. This assists with the roll-out of improved networks, like superfast broadband, to meet demands for greater connectivity.

It’s possible that the telecoms company may ask the landowner to grant them a lease over an area of their land, with a right of access, and the right to install, operate and maintain the mast and cables.

However, if a voluntary agreement isn’t reached, telecoms operators can apply for compulsory rights to install and keep apparatus on another person’s property. This allows them to install and maintain telephone equipment without the landowner’s consent.

Under the Code, the courts have the power to impose agreements on landowners. If an operator provides a written notice showing the rights sought and the proposed terms of the agreement (including duration and the amount they’re proposing to pay), the landowner will have 28 days to agree. After that period, the operator may apply for a court order. The Court can favour the telecoms operator if it decides that the public benefit outweighs the inconvenience or disadvantage caused to the landowner – and they can be adequately financially compensated.

Notably, the landowner will not receive substantial payments from the operator to use their land – which would have been the case pre-2017. The Code introduced a “no scheme” valuation system meaning that, while still supposedly being calculated on a market value basis, any payments made will exclude the value of the proposed telecoms use by the operator.

Despite the Code favouring operators, they must comply with health and safety requirements, including safe access, regular testing and adherence to minimum cable heights. The equipment must not obstruct any existing means of entering or leaving land, and there are guidelines on planting poles in proximity to trees. Importantly, installations must (as far as possible) have a minimal impact on their setting.

If a landowner is approached by operators seeking access to land for surveys and new telecoms leases or other rights, they can seek legal advice to help understand their rights and to secure an agreement that doesn’t unduly burden their property.


Claire Brown

Trainee at Brodies LLP