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Call to respond to Communications Code Changes

Infrastructure is key to improved connectivity around telecommunications.  That is why Tom French, chair of NFU Scotland’s Legal and Technical Committee is urging members to get involved in the current review of the Electronics Communication Code.

NFU Scotland is hosting an online event in response to the issues being faced by farmers that are related to the code and to support members in responding to the open UK consultation (which closes on 24 March).

The webinar will be held on Thursday 11 March, from 19:00 – 20:15, on Zoom - https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_z684hwu1RLi-vuKtZWijuA  

The code sets out the regulations relating to the infrastructure required for telecommunications on public and private land and the review is being undertaken to improve access to land as sites for telecoms apparatus, which is cited by operators as a barrier to improve digital coverage and connectivity throughout the UK.

It is three years since the code became law in the UK, changing the rights given to telecoms operators and triggering a period of great uncertainty while operators and landowners have tried to understand the new regime and its implications for telecoms sites.

Since the code was last reviewed in 2017, more issues and problems have come to light; there is a lack of protection for the site providers, with the balance swinging strongly in favour of the telecoms operators. This has resulted in our members, and farmers from across the UK, reporting a number of problems, particularly around changes to lease agreements and difficulties in negotiating with operators. Unfortunately, this has often resulted in a surge in legal disputes.

The current consultation is proposing further reforms to facilitate telecoms providers in securing sites - whether through improving access to land or changing terms of agreement.  Notably, this includes the opportunity for retrospective changes to existing lease agreements.  All current and future site providers will be impacted by these proposals and the Union are delivering this webinar to help equip our members to respond to this important consultation.

The webinar on Thursday (11 March) provides an opportunity to learn more about this issue.

Our two expert speakers - Kate Russell who is the Technical and Policy Advisor with the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers and Ian Thornton–Kemsley who is an independent consultant - will provide an overview of the code and discuss its practical implementation.  That will provide those attending with the information and knowledge to complete their own submission to the UK consultation and help shape the Union’s response.

I will be chairing the webinar and there will be an opportunity for members to ask any questions to Kate and Ian on the Code or any other matters around telecommunications.   

The Union is clear that improved operator interactions with landowners, farmers and crofters will be fundamental to ensuring rural businesses and communities can thrive and reap the benefits of an improved telecoms network.   Moreover, many of our members are, and could be in the future, providers of the sites for much of this necessary infrastructure.  

The UK Government has shown us that they will reform the code to improve access to land and it is imperative that farmers and crofters share their views to ensure site providers’ rights are protected.  

For those looking to shape the Union’s response, feedback should be sent to zoe.meldrum@nfus.org.uk by 17 March 2021.  The deadline for the UK Government consultation is 24 March 2021 and is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-changes-to-the-electronic-communications-code .  NFUS has pulled resources together for members to support them in compiling a response, available here: https://www.nfus.org.uk/consultation.aspx?consult_id=17249

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