Agents Eye Column – June

24th June 2013

Pipelines, cables, pylons, electric poles….Are they really welcomed across your property?

I don’t think there are too many property occupiers and farmers who welcome utility companies installing poles, cables, pipes and pylons on their property. For those reading this who aren’t farmers, this still applies to you, whether they are crossing your garden or car park in the factory unit, utilities run everywhere and the issues are the same.

In a time when we have a greater understanding of the implications of soil compaction on yields, high commodity prices and risk factor being huge, major soil disturbance is never welcomed for farmers and disturbance to your business if you’re not farming is huge in tough economic periods.

It’s often the smaller maintenance or re-stringing jobs that pass by without much notice, but can often cause long lasting damage. Admittedly, sometimes they’ll do a good job, but experience tells us that unless matters are agreed prior to entry, often the subcontractors ignore sense and just focus on completion without due care and attention. Of late, we’ve had several major cases of death and injury to livestock in bizarre circumstances, but avoidable if the utility company had protected the animals from equipment. Now, is that a one off oversight or just cost saving by not creating secure compounds for example? My cynical view would say that as most utility companies are profit driven by shareholders, it is the latter.

You could say that as they have to pay compensation does it matter? Well yes, because in most cases the people affected aren’t being compensated to the full extent and really most would prefer not to have the damage caused in the first place. So a few pointers on what to do:

1. What rights do they really have under the various draconian and out of date acts? (e.g. entry next to a railway dates back to the Railways Act 1842!!) Can they store equipment on the land/yard, can they just come in when they like, what routes most they follow? Can they upgrade the equipment or just replace what is there?

2. Agree terms of entry – get a plan agreed, tie them to access routes that suit your business; agree rates per hour for damages (don’t forget your own time…as business owners/managers, you’re not cheap); yields, losses, grazing etc. these contentious issues can be ironed out at the beginning of the project.

3. Keep an accurate record of your time in a notebook – don’t forget that they need to put you into the position that you would have been had the entry not occurred. If the scheme goes on for years, you’ll never remember your disturbance.

4. Don’t be seen to be unreasonable but make sure you cover all points.

5. Ask for advice and help, be that solicitors, agents etc – the costs will be covered by the utility company.

6. Be careful about accepting full and final settlements – I’m still doing annual claims on pipelines installed 8 years ago!

Finally don’t let them bully or railroad you into agreement –make sure your rights are protected.

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