Utility Company Access – what are your rights?

19th May 2017

Many property occupiers will have some form of utility apparatus crossing their land, be it pylons, electric/BT poles, gas and water pipes. The rights granted to these companies are covered by many old draconian acts, dating back many years and grant certain rights to install, maintain and repair apparatus.

We have seen a sudden increase in new schemes being instigated mostly looking at renewing existing lines or replacing equipment; particularly the electric board and BT with the start of fibre optic rollout.

It’s really important that you as a land occupier know your rights and what the utility company can or can’t do. We find that in most circumstances, the operators use subcontractors who think they can just go on the land, do what they like, when they like and cause whatever damage they like.

The starting point is to look at the acts that grant the statutory powers. Is there a wayleave or easement and does that restrict them to certain rights, such as access or equipment? We have recently been involved with a scheme where the utility company needed to replace the foundations on a pylon; the easement allowed them to replace but not create a new bigger foundation; this technical issue resulted in re-negotiating a new agreement and crystallising a large claim for injurious affection. Many are also so badly planned that the landowner is the last person they speak to; in which case has the correct notice for entry been served or do they need to come in early? Can they install a compound or welfare site? Whilst many would say they can do all this, in most circumstances we find they can’t and that creates a negotiating position.

You must be really careful about what you allow them to do. So for example, if they travelling between two farms are you ensuring that they are washing down to prevent spread of livestock diseases or Black Grass seeds? Have they provided security for equipment left on site – we had one case where a pole rolled onto a sheep and killed it overnight!

In terms of compensation, the statutory position is to put you into a position that you would have been had the works not occurred. It is vital that you keep a record of all the time that you spend or your increased disturbance as a result of the works. Particularly if it’s a major pylon restring or pipeline, you will be amazed at what additional time is spent by you during the scheme and trying the remember the detail at the end is always impossible, so keep a record daily as you go on –it then becomes an unarguable point.

Finally, it impacts on any property occupier, whether you are a householder with works in the garden, farmer or commercial property owner – if they are taking entry under statutory powers make sure you are fully compensated for your losses.

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