Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill

Written evidence submitted by Ben Hamilton (TIB05)

I am writing to give my views on this proposed legislation. I own several leasehold flats and am also a director of a management company of a block of leasehold flats and have experience in trying to arrange for fibre telecoms installations in several types of leasehold arrangement.

This proposal does not go far enough. I have been unable to get decent broadband or fibre speeds in several different leasehold flats because the freeholder will not agree to sign the wayleave for various unjustified reasons and in different circumstances. Any legislation should cater for difficult and unwilling freeholders, as well as those who simply do not respond to wayleave requests.

There are various models of management / freeholder arrangements involved in leasehold flats, which can complicate matters. It is sometimes not clear, even to leaseholders themselves, who actually owns the freehold and who therefore is responsible for signing the wayleave.

In some cases, the freehold is owned by a corporate entity / company (often an investment or mortgage company) and the day-to-day management of the flats is the responsibility of a management company, of which all leaseholders have a legal share/interest/membership, but which is nominally managed by a few leaseholders who volunteer to be directors, but often the actual management is farmed out to a third party estate agent. In these cases, the corporate entity which owns the freehold is responsible for signing the wayleave to agree to the telecoms works, but of course they have no interest whatever in the needs of residents or the availability of decent broadband speeds, which makes it difficult to get them to agree to works.

In other cases, the freehold is owned by the management company itself, and each leaseholder has a share in the company (though most leaseholders don’t know or understand that they have a share in the freehold by virtue of the share certificate which accompanies their lease). Again, there are volunteer directors who are often investors who do not reside in the properties and again have no interest or concern for the broadband speeds available so long as they are able to successfully let out the properties.

I have resided in both above types of leasehold flat (as a leaseholder) and have experience trying to arrange wayleave for telecoms works, without success.

In one case, the directors of the management company were leaseholders who were investors and rented out the properties. They were responsible for signing wayleave because the management company owned the freehold. They refused to sign it because the telecom providers survey included cable trucking in the communal areas which they deemed to be ‘unattractive’. The decision was made without any consultation with other leaseholders, nor with any regards the needs or desires of actual residents, most of whom were tenants, not leaseholders.

In the second case, the freehold was owned by an investment company and I am one of two directors of the management company. Openreach surveyed the development at my request, and provided detailed plans about providing ultra fast fibre to the flats. But the freeholder refused to sign the wayleave without first obtaining legal advise costing £950, which they insisted the management company pay for. This was too expensive for the management company to pay for out of the leaseholders management fees. So that was the end of it. The frustration is that freehold houses across the road are all set up to get ultra fast fibre broadband without any of these issues!

Legislation in this area needs to address the issue of unwilling/unhelpful freeholders, as well as those which do no reply to wayleave requests. There is no chance that Openreach will ever be able to remove the copper phone network without some mechanism to force freeholders by stronger legislation.

The needs of residents need to be at the heart of this, the problem is that the people signing the wayleave are very removed from the actual residents and have little to no interest in the needs or desires of residents.

February 2020

 

Prepared 12th February 2020