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Don't ignore the signals – telecoms on school property

November 2018

We highlight the statutory rights benefitting telecoms operators and how these could affect plans to carry out works to school property.

Arrangements with telecom operators

Many schools will have long-standing arrangements in place with operators for masts and related telecoms equipment to be retained on school buildings. We often come across leases for rooftop installations granted by local authorities back in the early 2000's when site acquisition was at its peak, with the major mobile operators starting to establish their networks across the country. Even if the term of a lease has long expired, the operator will most likely still have its apparatus on the property; operating and occupying by relying on its statutory rights to remain.

There's no question the income generated by these arrangements is attractive with healthy annual rents being a helpful boost to the school budget. However in return, the apparatus, and the protection afforded to it, can cause a real headache for academy trusts, school governors and trustees who have plans for their school property.

The current regime and what to be alert to 

It has been the best part of a year since new legislation was introduced to apply to electronic communications apparatus installed and retained on land. The changes which this brought about are covered in our article The new Electronic Communications Code.

A significant case this past week has further strengthened the operators' position. Whilst the scenario was different (it related to access to a site for which there was no lease) it acts as a stark reminder that operators appear to have the advantage over the rights of landowners and occupier to deal with their property.

If there are proposals to carry out works or redevelop school property which will or may affect any installed telecoms apparatus, it is important to be organised and prepare any works programme well in advance:

  • Check the terms of the lease with the operator. Can the works be done around the apparatus? It may allow for the equipment to be switched off whilst works are carried out to the school property subject to the rent being suspended during any period of switch-off.
  • A lease to an operator cannot be terminated outright, even if there is a right to terminate within the lease. Measures introduced under the new "Code" involve a lengthy termination process which must be adhered to (18 months' notice is required) and with particular grounds for termination to be given. After the termination process further notice must be given to facilitate actual removal of the equipment.
  • The lease with the operator may, helpfully, allow for what is known as "lift and shift" – the ability to relocate the equipment elsewhere on the school property. However this might also be subject to giving the operator notice, perhaps of up to 18 months, and could bring with it associated costs.

The key message: don't ignore the presence of apparatus or be dismissive of an operator's rights outside its lease.

Additional considerations

Remember that if the property is held under a lease, consent of the landlord (whether that is the local authority or a private landlord) may also be needed to works to be carried out. Always check the terms of the lease to determine what is required.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please contact Alexandra Slater or any member of the education team on 0113 244 6100.

You can also keep up to date by following Wrigleys Education on Twitter here.

The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors

Alexandra Slater View Biography

Alexandra Slater

Solicitor
Leeds

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