A PROLIFERATION of changes within the telecoms industry over recent years have left farmers and landowners, who have leased their land to the various operating companies, confused and in a vulnerable position, according to land agent Savills.

Mergers and consolidations by operators with mobile phone masts have resulted in many players attempting to rationalise their sites and terminate leases prematurely, without due consideration to the agreed terms.

According to Kenneth Munn of Savills, this could result in operators attempting to terminate over 20,000 sites across the UK.

"The new entity Everything Everywhere for example (a merger between Orange and T Mobile) has already begun consolidating sites and are sending letters to landowners advising of their intention to terminate leases, and asking for landowners' signatures. These letters are often written in a manner which overrides the original lease, allowing the tenant to short-cut their way out of obligations," warned Mr Munn. "There is deep confusion among many landowners as to what their rights are, who among the telecoms players is now the legal tenant, who is the operator and on what network, and what rents and payments are due to the landlord."

According to Mr Munn, the operators' ability to terminate the lease may not be as straightforward as it appears.

He went on: "We have found that many standard leases appear to prevent the operators from terminating leases early.

"Where this is not the case, the landlord is still in a strong position. He can certainly demand rent up front for the unexpired term. In addition, the majority of leases would also require the tenant to reinstate the site.

"This leaves the landlord in a position to negotiate a one-off payment to terminate the lease and potentially, where appropriate, not reinstate. On some of the sites, we are discussing compensation sums in excess of £50,000.

"The value to the tenant of being able to avoid this 'shortcut' out of a telecoms mast lease can be very significant. Landlords should take advice to ensure they are properly compensated for future losses, particularly in respect of rent foregone, before signing any letter."

Market round-up

Lawrie and Symington sold 13 prime heifers in Lanark on Monday to a top of 274p per kg and an average of 250.4p (+6.4p on the week), while two prime beef-bred bullocks levelled at 222p. Eleven prime, dairy-bred bullocks sold to 187.5p and averaged 185.2p (+5.3p).

In the rough ring, 36 beef cows averaged 144p and 35 dairy cows levelled at 119p. Ten OTM cattle averaged 165p.

The firm also sold 639 prime lambs to a top of £99.50 per head and 228p per kg to average 182.2p (-40p). The 420 cast sheep forward saw ewes sell to £117.50 for Texels and £51.50 for Blackfaces to average £57.07 overall (-£2.60).