Whether it is pipelines, cables, pylons, or electric poles…. utility apparatus is everywhere. We sat down with Robert Moore to discuss whether utility apparatus really is a welcome addition across your property.
I don’t think there are too many property owners, occupiers, or farmers who welcome utility companies installing poles, cables, pipes or pylons across their property. The upgrading of apparatus or even simple maintenance can be a headache. For those who are reading this article who are not farmers, this will still be relevant to you. Whether apparatus is crossing your garden, or car park in your factory unit, utilities run everywhere and the issues are the same.
Spring has been incredibly wet this year. Land is lying saturated and field drains are flowing at full capacity. The negative implications of utility companies taking access to carry out such works at the current time can be huge, especially if care is not taken. Soil structure can be damaged as compaction takes place, causing yields to be negatively impacted. There is risk attached, as loss of income can be incurred through disturbance and inconvenience being caused to a farming business, and of course, the same applies if you’re not farming.
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 a utility company will do a good job, but experience tells me 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 injury being caused to livestock in bizarre circumstances, but avoidable if the utility company had protected the animals from equipment being left in fields. Likewise, I have experienced appalling reinstatement being undertaken to damaged field drains, in which if not tackled, cause long lasting implications.
You could say that as a utility company is statutorily obliged to pay compensation, does it matter? Well yes it does, because in most cases the people or businesses being affected aren’t being compensated to the full extent which represents their loss, and really most would prefer not to have the damage caused in the first place. So here are a few pointers on what to do:
- What rights do they really have under the various acts? Can they store equipment on the land/yard, can they just come in when they like, and what routes must they follow? Can they upgrade the equipment or just replace what is there?
- Terms of entry must be agreed – get a plan in place at the start, agree 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.
- 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 all your inconvenience at the end.
- Don’t be seen to be unreasonable, but make sure you cover all points.
- Ask for advice and help, be that solicitors, agents etc – the costs will be covered by the utility company.
- Be careful about accepting full and final settlements.
Finally don’t let them bully or railroad you into agreement, make sure your rights are protected.
If you would like to talk more about the negative implications of utility companies taking access, please contact Robert Moore on 07590 230510 or email@example.com.
Driving around the countryside, it’s amazing to see and think how many utility companies’ apparatus (gas mains, electricity lines and water pipes) criss-cross the farming landscape. For those that have apparatus above ground, there is the constant reminder, especially during spraying, harvest and cultivation periods of the hassle they cause.
Occasionally, utility companies require access to undertake repairs, renewals or replacements to their apparatus which inevitably results in damage being caused to property and can be a real head ache especially if access is required during wet periods or busy times of the year.
Most utility companies operate under various Acts of Parliament and therefore it is vital to have a good understanding of the underlying legislation and what statutory powers utility companies do and don’t have when they require entry to install new apparatus, repair, maintain or replace existing equipment. If your property is to be affected by such programmes, I would strongly advise these issues are addressed before any access is permitted as ultimately you need to be assured that you will be fully compensated for any loss you incur.
Inevitably any access requirement is going to cause some level of disturbance whether it be physical damage to the ground, loss of crops, inconvenience of moving stock, your time or any subsequent reinstatement required once the works are complete. This list goes on and of course the recent wet weather will only exacerbate such loss as utility improvement programmes become ever increasingly protracted. It is important to iron out the implications of any utility scheme from the start and have a full understanding of works involved as in far to many circumstances the landowner and/or occupier are not fully briefed by the utility company when the programme commences.
Under a normal utility improvement scheme, there are various compensation issues to address. Firstly that relating to loss of income and with commodity prices fluctuating it is important to get the timing and detail of any claim correct. Secondly, there will inevitably be some reinstatement to do once the works are complete. It amazes me the amount of times utility companies take access over the winter period and unfortunately I have been involved in far too many cases where no respect or consideration has been given to the land or farmers property. I would advise reinstatement rates are agreed before entry is permitted which may include hourly charges for undertaking sub-soiling, discing etc to remove any deep ruts or soil compaction caused by the works. This makes a final claim much easier to settle and reduces the need for speculation. Many underestimate the time and cost of such reinstatement measures and this can be a contentious point when trying to settle a claim with the utility company.
Thirdly, inconvenience and disturbance payments. It is vital that from the start, you keep a record of all your time spent in correspondence with the utility company and any inconvenience this may bring, including your time speaking with an agent representing you. Such time records should also include any additional requirements such as amendments to your agri-environmental stewardship scheme, additional time spent in spraying, harvesting or cultivating or taking more time feeding or checking livestock.
In addition to the above, there may also be a capital payment due if a new easement is created. This will relate to the diminution in value to the property the installation of the new apparatus brings. Such claim should not be overlooked, and it is very important to get a clear understanding of the effect such apparatus can have on the value of the underlying asset. If a new wayleave is created or an existing altered, make sure the agreement is accurate and you are receiving the correct annual payments.
Lastly, don’t forget that the utility company will cover all your expenses including the appointment of an agent and other professionals to act on your behalf. Getting professional advice can be beneficial to ensure you are fully compensated and all your concerns are addressed right from the start.
For more information relating to compulsory purchase and compensation please speak to your regional contact:
Northumberland & Borders and Yorkshire – Robert Moore 01665 511984
County Durham – Jonathan Wallis – 01388 529577