Digital Economy Bill

Written evidence submitted by Community Land Scotland (DEB 70)

Submission in relation to the Digital Economy Bill and the Electronic Communications Code changes proposed within the Bill specifically.

1. Community Land Scotland is the representative body for community land owners in Scotland. Between them, community land owners own and manage over 500,000 acres of land. There are a number of communication masts within that community owned land.

2. Community land owners are principally driven by the need for economic, social and cultural development in their locality, and use their land resources to drive such development. Community owners have a high regard for and manage significant areas of high value natural heritage land. Within the range of concerns community owners have, very often operating in marginal areas economically, promoting and securing significantly improved communications infrastructure is a high priority concern. Without infrastructure that compares with the best available anywhere in the UK, their areas will continue to suffer economic disadvantage and their development will be substantially impaired. To this extent, Community Land Scotland welcomes improvements in the regulatory environment which will enable the delivery of better broadband and mobile communications. If the Digital Economy Bill, and particularly the revised Electronic Communications Code, enables such progress, this would be generally to be welcomed.

3. However, there are also potential downsides to what may emerge from these changes, in so far as community landowners currently benefit from rental income from communication masts, and this can be an important and significant part of their income. The current valuation method for rentals is on an open market basis, and any permitted move away from this in future may have adverse impacts on the income streams currently enjoyed, and may encourage the triggering of break clauses in current agreements so that the operators can gain the benefit of reduced expenditure. If any such reductions in such expenditure by operators was to feed into improved service and investment to achieve the outcome of better broadband and mobile services for the communities our members are there to serve, this could be seen as having some overall economic advantage. If, however, all this did was to feed better profitability and dividend distribution for operators, that would be at the expense of community economic, social and cultural development and environmental enrichment. Unlike private landowners, the income to community owners is guaranteed to stay local and be re-invested into the community as community land owners operate in a non profit distributing way.

4. In considering the balance of advantage in making any change to the regulatory regime, Parliament should consider the effects of potentially reduced income on community land owners and their communities. Within the regulatory framework overall, if any changes are sanctioned of the sort potentially envisaged above, Parliament needs to ensure the result is greater investment in infrastructure, not just greater profitability for the operators. Unless this could be assured, on balance, we would not support changes to the valuation methods for mast rental income that would otherwise disadvantage local development by reducing income streams to public benefit community owners of land. If Parliament none the less sanctions the proposed changes and new valuations could not be accompanied by a specific commitment to improved infrastructure within the areas that may otherwise lose income, then a specific appeal mechanism against such revised valuations and that addressed this issue should also be created.

October 2016

 

Prepared 26th October 2016