Farmers warned as firms bid to cut rent

Farmers and landowners who rent their land to mobile phone companies to site their masts are being pushed into accepting reduced rents or even having their contracts torn up altogether, experts have warned.

At a time when farmers are faced with increasing overheads and fluctuating farmgate prices, allowing masts to be based on land has been a lucrative source of additional income, with a sizeable number of the 50,000 phone masts currently operating in the UK based on British farms.

However, mobile phone companies, seeking for ways to increase revenue in a highly competitive market place, have begun to reduce the amount of masts they operate by sharing them with rival firms, rather than have their own exclusive networks.

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With fewer masts to operate, phone companies are increasingly looking to withdraw from existing rent agreements or make a significant reduction in the rent they pay, leaving farmers and landowners out of pocket.

However, campaign groups and solicitors are advising landowners not to agree to any alterations to their contracts without seeking qualified advice beforehand.

Luke Maidens, with Leeds-based solicitors Shulmans, said his firm had acted for dozens of clients in Yorkshire alone who had found themselves on the wrong end of the rationalisation process from telecoms operators and that the sums of money involved were often very high.

He said: “Now more than ever, it’s crucial that those with telecoms masts on their property are aware of these types of issues and seek specialist independent advice to avoid prejudicing their position and/or losing considerable amounts of money”.

The Country Land and Business Association’s regional director Dorothy Fairburn told Country Week that the issue was affecting a great number of their members and again advised anyone affected to seek advice before proceeding.

She said: “The recent consolidation of mobile network providers has meant that thousands of telecoms masts and sites have become redundant through mast sharing.

“As a result, landowners throughout Yorkshire are being approached by their telecoms mast tenants attempting to fix or reduce rental terms or even pull out of lease agreements altogether.

“The CLA is advising farmers and landowners to be extremely cautious in any dealings with telecoms mast tenants or their agents and to always take professional advice before entering into negotiations. Any CLA members in this situation should contact the advisory team in the CLA North regional office as soon as possible.”

Country Week approached the industry regulator Ofcom for comment on the issue but a spokesman declined to comment, saying it was a matter for individual firms to decide upon.