Latimer Hinks Solicitors is advising farmers, who have rented out sites for mobile telephone masts, to check their legal agreements to establish if they run the risk of losing much-needed income due to the current consolidation of the mobile telecoms industry.
The merger of mobile phone companies means that fewer masts will be needed and companies are said to be planning to decommission more than 13,000 such structures nationwide.
Many farmers, including those in the North East, have enjoyed an income boost during recent years by renting out land to companies, such as Vodafone, Orange and O2, as a location for a mast.
Neil Stevenson, a Partner at Latimer Hinks, who specialises in agricultural issues and commercial property, said: Hard-pressed farmers have had to look at ways of diversifying to help balance the books and keep their agricultural business viable.
Entering into lease agreements with mobile phone companies, allowing a mast to be positioned on their land, often had the potential to bring in far more money than if the land was used for farming.
With the current changes in the mobile phone industry, farmers who rented out land in this way, stand to lose out to the tune of thousands of pounds a year.
He warned: This type of lease agreement is often weighted heavily in favour of the phone companies. Even if the leases expiry date is several years away, it is possible that the company may have the right to walk away from the deal if they say the mast is now superfluous to their requirements, or if the site is no longer suitable for operational reasons
However, on the positive side, some landowners may be able to charge a premium or extra rental if two companies want to share the same mast.
However, what they are able renegotiate will depend on the details of the original legal agreement and I would, therefore, advise farmers, who find themselves in this situation, to seek the appropriate professional advice.
A recent property consultancy report revealed that rental revenues landowners received from mobile phone operators for accommodating a mast rose 8.4% to £7,335 annual revenue rentals last year *