What you need to know about acquisition and planning
Despite ongoing efforts to make land acquisition for telecoms infrastructure deployment easier, operators looking to improve network coverage are facing a myriad of challenges. Whether it’s push back against upgrades, or legal battles over installation opposition, the road to expansion is not always an easy one.
Killian Smyth, KTL Acquisition Agent, explains what exactly site acquisition and planning is, what is being done to accelerate it, what obstacles operators face, and how KTL is combating these issues for clients.
What is acquisition and planning?
Site acquisition is essentially getting legal access to build on a new site or upgrade a site. It involves searching areas with the client’s radio planner to identify gaps in network coverage and find potential locations to overcome them.
Once a location is confirmed, negotiations begin with the landowner to install and operate there. While that’s happening, planning permission is obtained through the relevant authorities after community consultation.
The site upgrade process is similar, except that the operator already has an agreement with the landowner and a legal audit decides whether new equipment can be installed.
What’s being done to make this easier?
The central UK government has been working to improve the speed of deployment for both upgrades and new sites through both planning regulations and updated Electronic Communications Code legislation.
A new code was introduced in 2017 with the aim of improving the rights of operators to access private land for deploying telecommunications equipment. It includes automatic rights to share, upgrade, install and remove equipment.
More lenient planning regulations include a change for street works sites - they previously required prior approval but can now be done under License Notification in certain circumstances, essentially making public objection immaterial.
What are the challenges?
The industry is sometimes being held back by the unintended consequences of these attempts to streamline acquisition and planning processes.
In the case of the new ECC, site owners are often now refusing to be drawn into lease renewal negotiations where the lease is protected under the Landlord and Tenant Act - they can maintain their rent and rights rather than concede to a new agreement heavily weighted in the operator’s favour.
For new sites, potential greenfield and rooftop owners are at times using everything in their power to avoid installations on their land due to the lack of benefits they now provide. That can lead to costly and time-consuming court proceedings.
The sheer number of upgrade projects currently being progressed is also creating further confusion for landowners, site providers and their agents.
How is KTL dealing with these challenges?
KTL’s existing relationships with landowners, multi-site providers, agents and solicitors are invaluable in this area.
With more than 25 years’ experience in the industry, we often negotiate from an amicable position, rather than initiating the process under the threat of legal action. We use a range of tools such as ‘early completion incentive payments’ and ‘rolled-up rents up front’ to best suit the needs of individual landowners.
The fundamental principle here is to follow the Code of Practice in our dealings with external stakeholders, ensuring we maintain strong relationships and that our client’s reputation is upheld.
KTL is also well able to deal with that issue of multiple project negotiations. Our access to clients’ lists of live projects allows us to clearly identify other suppliers and sub-contractors engaged with site providers and agents.
Depending on the agent involved and the sensitivity of the site, we can suggest a collaborative approach where KTL might lead on negotiations for all projects to ensure only one point of contact is used - reducing confusion and frustration on the site provider’s side.
What does the future look like?
Glorious! The need for connectivity and internet access is only increasing, and with it the need for new installations. The growth of smart devices and machine-to-machine technology should also drive the rollout of more small and micro cell sites.
Rapid electric charging points to support the escalation of the electric vehicle industry is also an area to keep an eye on – it might even provide an opportunity for the telecoms industry to roll out small cells within these sites.
KTL’s experience means we’re well-positioned as a trusted technical partner in this space for future growth, and we can’t wait to be part of it all.