A rift over the reduced rental payments for the hosting of communications infrastructure is prompting landlords to consider redevelopment and an end to their agreements with the mobile phone companies.

Meanwhile, mobile charges remain high for business and individual customers despite progressively lower rental charges incurred by phone companies for siting their equipment.

Mobile connectivity in the UK has improved, although not as quickly as the Government anticipated when it introduced the 2017 Electronic Communications Code (ECC). In recent years, as firms invest in widening their networks and filling in geographical and system gaps, many landlords believe improvements have been made at their expense, as mobile phone companies significantly reduce rental payments but not charges for sharing sites to each other by the same degree.

Mobile phone companies are using the provisions of the ECC – aimed at digitising the UK economy – to reduce payments to landlords for the siting of mobile masts and associated equipment on their properties.

Landlords looking at their overall property portfolio now see the land occupied by telecommunications equipment as giving the lowest rental return. Combined with health and safety concerns and disruption caused by the mobile companies requesting 24-hour access to equipment, this makes redeveloping land for other purposes an attractive option to some landlords.

Whereas development, particularly in the urban fringe, used to work around the mobile mast infrastructure, reduced rental returns have encouraged Landlords to look at redevelopment options ignoring the presence of these sites as there should be the ability to terminate agreements should the site or land adjacent to the site be redeveloped.

Other factors prompting owners to consider moving their property away from mobile use include:

  • The hassle of dealing with some mobile phone companies who consider the use of their site should take priority over adjacent uses of the land;


  • Access to mobile sites being required 24/7 and the disruption that causes to adjacent occupiers, particularly when access protocols aren’t adhered to;


  • Commercial investors are getting a nasty surprise on finding newly acquired property is host to telecom equipment as these rights don’t need to be registered against the title of the property;


  • Landlords risk ‘falling between two stools’ – facing financial penalties because they’re unable to fulfil their legal obligations to make roof space available for both transmission apparatus and then fulfil their EPC requirements as space has been taken up restricting deployment of renewable-energy equipment, such as solar panels and batteries.

With the expectation of receiving low rental returns from mobile phone masts, landlords are now looking to redevelop these sites where they can, one of the few reasons they’re allowed to terminate these agreements under the Code.

I’ve seen a number of these cases in Scotland recently, and I believe that pattern is being repeated across the UK. Terminating sites which disrupts mobile networks signals bad news for the economy but looks to be an unintended consequence of the new Code.  If rental levels weren’t reduced by such significant levels this issue could have been avoided.