Edinburgh pastor fears for church's future after 'bullyish' EE slashes mast rent by 96 per cent

An Edinburgh pastor said felt “bullied” and “intimidated” by a telecoms company which has cut rent for a mast on his land by 96 per cent.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Friday, 19th March 2021, 10:20 pm

Rufai Adesola bought his church in 77 Craigentinny Road in 2017 and signed a contract confirming that he would receive a five figure sum in rent annually from EE for having one of their masts in the grounds.

But due to a change in the Electronics Communication Code, the telecoms company was able to edit his contract, forcing him to swallow an astonishing rent cut which will leave him with just four per cent of his original earnings.

The changes to the code, made in 2017, have allowed rent for masts to be valued on the land’s “alternate use” rather than the total value of the telecommunications property, which is often far greater.

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Rufai Adesola outside his church King of Glory in Craigentinny Road picture: Lisa Ferguson

The move was intended to make it easier for phone businesses to set up masts in rural areas to improve patchy signal for rural communities, but it has come at the expense of some landowners.

One landowner, who preferred to remain anonymous, claimed their rent was slashed from £5,000 a year to an annual payment of £10. Others said their rents were cut from more than £1,000 to £37.

Mr Adesola, among others in his position across the UK, are behind the campaign group Protect and Connect which is lobbying ministers to change the code to save agreed rents that are being unilaterally slashed across the country.

“I am worried about the future of the church,” said Mr Adolesa, who has lived in Edinburgh for 15 years.

“Especially with the coronavirus having an impact on the community lately, it’s going to be a real struggle finding the funds to make up for this financial loss in the future.

“I bought this church knowing that income was there, and I was relying on it for the mortgage and the church charity.

“We will just have to try and get help from our members, but it won’t be much.”

Bullied

The pastor explained when he was asked to sign the revised contract, based on the code’s new terms, EE staff were “bullyish” and “intimidating”.

“I felt like I didn’t really have much of a choice when they came to me with the newly written contract,” he added.

“I was just told ‘it’s the law’ when I tried to discuss it more.

“I went to lawyers for help but there’s no way I can afford legal fees to start a case I will probably lose anyway.

“There’s nothing I can do, and it just doesn’t seem fair.

"I bought this church from Church of Scotland and made a deal, and that deal has been changed and will make our situation here a real struggle.”

The UK Government is currently taking views from all landowners like Mr Adolesa and other interested parties about this issue in a consultation which is due to close on 24 March.

A spokeswoman for Protect and Connect said many of the landowners they are representing said their rents have fallen by at least 90 per cent or more.

She added: “It’s a complete shock to some of these landowners - from churches to rugby clubs to farmers - to have to face massive cuts like this.

“We set up our campaign group in February this year to urge ministers to revise the code.

A government spokesman said: "Our priority is levelling up the country with better mobile coverage and it is essential that fair prices are agreed for the rights to install and use communications equipment in order to do this quickly.

"We are aware of concerns raised about the code and we are consulting on whether other legislative changes are needed to encourage faster and more collaborative negotiations with network operators."

An EE spokesman said: “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 all communities and never more so than during the pandemic, where our network has helped to support families, businesses and public services.”

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