Aylesbury Rugby Club accuse EE of 'bullying' after telecoms giant slashes mast rent by thousands

Aylesbury Rugby Club is campaigning for a change in the law after mobile phone giant EE arbitrarily told the club it was slashing the rent it pays for a phone mast on the club’s ground from £6,000 a year to just £750.

Monday, 8th March 2021, 9:18 am
Updated Monday, 8th March 2021, 9:20 am
Aylesbury United entertaining Wasps

The rental income from the mobile network operator has been crucial to the successful running of the Aylesbury Rugby Club, a community club with a heavy focus on volunteers teaching the game to youngsters for 20 years.

But now, using a legal loophole created by Parliamentary changes to the Electronic Communications Code (EEC) the company has been able unilaterally to cut annual rent it pays by an astonishing 95 per cent.

Club Secretary, Derek Spence, says that because the original deal to let the site to the phone operators was made 20 years ago when the 1954 Landlords and Tenants Act still applied, Vodafone were accorded the status of sitting tenants.

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This means that the club can’t tell the phone operator to remove the mast because of their rights of tenure.

Aylesbury Rugby Club is just one of thousands of small businesses, farmers, charities and sports clubs who are losing out in the UK’s race to build its new high speed digital network with mobile phone giants unilaterally slashing agreed rents on sites housing the masts.

The change in the ECC was made in a 2017 amendment to Parliamentary legislation intended to speed up the roll out of the UK’s new high speed digital network.

Across the UK mobile network operators including Vodafone, EE and Telefonica have unilaterally reduced rents with no consultation with site owners - whom they routinely threaten with unaffordable legal action if they do not accept the cuts.

As in the case of Aylesbury Rugby Club, the financial consequences to thousands of smallholders, farmers, local councils, churches, sport clubs and small businesses

are devastating as they are forced to accept derisory rents.

An EE Spokesperson said in response: “We work hard to ensure good relationships with our landlords and we share the common interest of delivering modern communications that support both them and the communities in which they are based.

"Connectivity is vital for rural communities and never more so than during the pandemic, where our network has helped to support families, businesses and public services.”

The club has now joined a new campaign group, Protect and Connect which – while fully backing the need for a new 5G network, is seeking justice for the owners of the UK’s 33,000 existing mast sites – and the owners of the many more which will be required.

Derek Spence the Secretary of Aylesbury Rugby Football Club says: “The EE lease came up for renewal a year ago.

"Without any warning or consultation we received a letter saying that the rent would be cut from £6,000 per annum to £750 a year.

"This is a derisory offer and would have a major impact on our club finances. Our membership is diverse, with the majority of our members being minis and juniors.

"A reduction in rental income from the masts will certainly compromise our ability to provide sport to the local community.

"It is of particular concern right now, when the opportunity to generate funds from other sources is limited because of the lockdown.

“We also rent a site to Vodafone whose lease expires soon. We know that any precedent set with EE will drive the Vodafone rental offer. I’m sure the new Electronic Communications Code was not drawn up with the intent of seriously disadvantaging landlords – especially sports clubs and charities..

“It would be a different matter if we could remove the mast and rent the site to a different commercial partner. But we are not allowed to do that. We feel that we are being bullied into accepting a ludicrously low rent and we have been threatened with court action to accept a new lease on their terms. Of course, we can’t afford a lengthy court battle. We appear to be over a barrel.

“The government seems happy to see huge profits being made for multi-billion pound phone companies off the back of thousands of small landowners whose interests are being ignored.”

Protect and Connect ( https://www.protectandconnect.co.uk/ ) is working to end the rip-off by the mobile network operators of thousands of existing and potential new site owners.

At the same time the government is currently running a consultation into the Electronic Communications Code. But this ends on March 24, leaving little time for small landowners to make their voices heard.