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Union Submits Response to UK Government Consultation on Access to Land

NFU Scotland has responded to the UK Government’s consultation considering reforms to the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) regarding access to land and lease agreements.  

The recent reforms to the ECC tipped the balance in favour of the operator, and the consultation held by the department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport saw many proposals which would exacerbate this situation.  

Overall, the Union proposed the Ofcom Code of Conduct must be enforceable, with penalties for operators who fail to comply with good practice.

NFUS strongly opposed proposals to allow for automatic rights to upgrade and retrospective changes to agreement, including for agreement made pre-2017.  

The Union used member examples in the submission to highlight the problems with the current Code, and to reiterate the need for penalties for operators who do not comply with best practice. Members have reported threatening language, poor negotiation tactics, and a disregard for the nuances of Scots Law when engaging with operators.

NFUS’ position on the Code has always been clear; a fair balance between site providers and telecoms operators must be struck.  

A key success from this piece of work would be ensuring the Ofcom Code of Practice becomes statutory, with visible penalties for operators introduced to assist in rebuilding trust and transparency.

One clear omission in the consultation was the statutory valuation framework which was not up for discussion. However, the Union reiterated its previous position – that the rollout of infrastructure cannot come at the cost of the individual site provider.  It drew upon examples where farmers and crofters were approached by operators to negotiate far lower rents accompanied with far greater rights for existing infrastructure, following the recent reforms.

In advance of the submission, NFUS held a well-received webinar with telecoms experts Kate Russell and Ian Thornton-Kemsley to support its members in learning more about the Code and enabling them to respond to the consultation as individuals.  

Tom French, chair of NFU Scotland’s Legal and Technical Committee, said: “NFUS has been clear from the outset that improved operator interactions with landowners, farmers, and crofters will be the key to ensuring rural businesses and communities can thrive, and reap the benefits of an improved telecoms network”.

“The Union considers most of the proposals in the consultation risk exacerbating the existing power imbalance to be even more in favour of the operators. This is disproportionate and unfair.”  

“One positive outcome from this piece of work would be for operators to face penalties for breaches of the Ofcom Code of Practice.  Adherence to the Code by operators, and their associated representatives and contractors, will make significant headway in resolving the common problems our members face in this context.”

Notes for Editors:

  • A picture of Tom French, chair of NFU Scotland’s Legal and Technical Committee, is attached.


Ends

Contact Ruth Oxborrow on 07823 556253

Author: Ruth Oxborrow

Date Published:

News Article No.: 56/21


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