How to obtain wayleave consent during COVID-19

Trenches Law News   •   May 15th, 2020

The current health crisis means that organisations from all walks of business life have had to define and adapt to a ‘new normal’, and things are no different in the telecoms sector. But what impact has COVID-19 had on the progress of network builds and, more specifically, what does this all mean when it comes to obtaining wayleave consent? Our head of wayleave, Georgina Rudak, offers her thoughts…

Obtaining wayleave consent to install, maintain, operate and repair the UK’s telecoms infrastructure, is not always easy. That’s one of the many reasons the Government planned to introduce a new bill this year, to streamline the processes involved – particularly in relation to amendment of the Electronic Communications Code – so the courts can impose an agreement if Multi-Dwelling Unit  (‘MDU’) owners fail to respond to wayleave requests.

There has been a great deal of support for the proposed bill, to date, but with work still to be done to refine the content, and the current health crisis presenting wider priorities for parliament, for now we must wait and see how this pans out.

Meanwhile, however, work to progress the nation’s network builds continues at pace, not least because the Government granted telco staff ‘key worker’ status when the COVID-19 lockdown was first announced.

At the start of April, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport also published guidance relating to the deployment of telecoms infrastructure in England, during the outbreak. The introduction reiterated the critical nature of the sector and confirmed that: “Now, more than ever, the country is reliant on fixed line and mobile communications networks.”

The same guidance document encourages landlords to permit telcos’ access to sites when inspections, maintenance, adjustments, repairs and upgrades are required in respect of the telecoms infrastructure, and the advice even asks that steps are taken to facilitate entry to unoccupied properties.

But so far, there is little sign of any greater co-operation. In some respects, a degree of hesitance is perhaps understandable, at a time when the nation is seeking to stop COVID-19 spreading. Yet this is hindering the industry’s ability to carry out essential work, as the Government has requested.

A similar trend seems apparent when it comes to confirming new wayleave agreements. Even when managing agents and their freeholders are happy with the terms discussed, they seem wary of providing signatures which give access to properties amidst the current crisis.

However, our advice here – and therefore the approach we have been taking on behalf of Trenches Law’s clients – is to maintain dialogue and strive to complete the wayleave negotiations as soon as possible.

We are working hard to obtain necessary signatures in advance of lockdown being lifted. That’s because, even if works cannot be conducted at this present time, they will still be necessary post-lockdown. Complex network builds must continue. Waiting until the release date to ‘dot the Is and cross the Ts’, simply risks stalling everything, so this time should be used wisely.

We’re seeing a driving force for progress at the other end of the chain too. With an unprecedented increase in the number of people working from home and using video calls to keep in touch with friends and family during this isolating time, there’s never been such a hunger for connectivity. In many instances, it’s not just a desire but a necessity, especially when it comes to NHS back office staff who need to be online to carry out their crucial roles.

Residents are therefore demanding better broadband and starting to push their landlords with almost the same sense of urgency as the network providers – another reason why wayleave discussions must maintain pace.

Yes, when the time comes, the work needs to be carried out as safely as possible, with maximum respect for the social distancing guidelines provided by the experts. And there are new negotiation hurdles to overcome as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

But now is not the time to stop talking. In fact, wayleave discussions are arguably more important than ever.

Whether you’re looking for a fully outsourced wayleave service or support with a single specific matter, why not learn more about our expertise, connect with Georgina on LinkedIn, or contact us to discuss your needs.