A NEW campaign group has been launched to demand a fair deal for the people and companies whose property is used by telecoms companies – some of whom now face rent cuts of up to 90%.

'Protect and Connect' will campaign on behalf of individuals, not-for-profit organisations, farmers, local councils, churches, hospitals and other healthcare facilities, property funds and real estate investment trusts and all other companies who own properties. It will be chaired by former MP and former Shadow Minister Anna Turley.

There are around 33,000 mobile phone masts in the UK and many more are contracted to be built. The majority are installed on sites owned by small interests at the heart of their local communities, including thousands of farmers, local councils, churches, sport clubs and small businesses.

Telecoms companies are using rights given to them in 2017, under legislation called the Electronic Communications Code, to demand dramatic rent reductions of up to 90% from these landowners, hurting thousands of small businesses and individuals at a time when many are already facing hardship.

In some cases, the owners of land or buildings on which infrastructure is located have seen their annual rent cut from several thousand pounds to less than £50 a year, putting livelihoods at risk. Demands from telecoms companies have often been followed by threats of court action that small property owners are ill-equipped to fight.

This approach has inevitably led to drawn out and acrimonious contract negotiations, causing hold ups in the installation of vital new digital infrastructure and slowing 5G rollout in the process.

The Protect and Connect campaign wants to get back to a market that works for both sides – and for the country, on the basis that 'the UK’s digital future should not be fought and decided in the courts'.

But telecoms companies are now demanding changes to the Code that would give them even greater rights by removing the limited legal protections landowners are currently entitled to.

A UK government consultation into the Code was announced by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on January 27, 2021. It closes on March 24, 2021.

Protect and Connect is calling on the UK government to review the valuation methods set out in the Code which result in landowners and property owners being forced to accept significantly less for the use of their assets and substantially less than was originally promised.

Ms Turley, said: “Time is running out to get a fair deal for small property owners across the country. The UK needs high speed digital connectivity, but it is wrong to expect local communities to foot the bill.

"Telecoms companies are hugely profitable and have recently been handed generous state subsidies to roll out high speed networks, particularly in rural areas.

"The individuals and organisations that have been forced to accept rental reductions of up to 90% include farming families, amateur sports clubs, small businesses and parish councils. We will campaign tirelessly on their behalf to expose the tactics employed by telecoms operators and their agents and ensure property owners get a fair deal.”