Clause 61 - Rent under tenancies conferring code rights: England and Wales

Part of Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 17 Mawrth 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 2:00, 17 Mawrth 2022

The Government introduced the electronic communications code in 2017 and promised at the time that reductions in rent would, in reality, be no more than 40%. However, as we heard from Protect and Connect during Tuesday’s evidence session, there have been thousands of cases in which small tenant farmers, sports clubs and community organisations that host masts have seen their rents fall by vastly more than that, with many facing reductions of more than 90%. That was confirmed during the evidence session, when a question was asked about the average, followed by questions from other Members, including me. That clearly showed that there had been far higher reductions for some organisations and owners. One such case is James, a 71-year-old sheep farmer who has maintained a mast on his farm for 15 years, normally receiving £2,900 a year in rent. In 2020, James received a letter informing him that he was now being offered £200 a year under a new agreement. That was a reduction of 93% and a huge overnight shock to his personal and professional finances.

The average reduction for contracts negotiated by Cellnex UK, as Mark Bartlett informed us on Tuesday, has been 63%—a decrease that would cause a huge dent in the finances of all the kinds of organisation I have referred to and a figure well above what the Government promised in 2017. I am sure that members of this Committee would not be best pleased if a significant stream of their income fell by 63%.

I know that the Minister said at Second Reading that valuations pre 2017 were much too high, but surely she must recognise, after the oral evidence we heard on Tuesday, that the race to the bottom that we are seeing is not sustainable and that the level of reduction in rent that is occurring will deter other landowners from agreeing to host infrastructure in the first place, thus slowing the roll-out that this very legislation is designed to speed up.

Rather than leaving reductions to chance, the Opposition have tabled amendment 8, which would enshrine in law that rents under any new agreement fall by no more than 40%. That would strike a much fairer balance between operators and site providers by ensuring that what is a significant income stream for many individuals and community groups is not wiped out overnight. It would also contribute significantly to a faster roll-out of telecommunications infrastructure, as site owners would be more willing to engage. Speeding up the roll-out of new telecommunications infrastructure is the express desire of the Bill. I hope that Members from across the Committee will stand squarely behind their constituents by supporting this amendment.