Clubs and churches mauled as mobile phone giants slash the rent they pay on phone masts by up to 90%
- Telecoms firms being handed state subsidies to roll out high speed networks
- But new laws will allow them to rip up mast contracts and pay landowners less
- Many sports clubs, charities and churches now face mast rent cuts of up to 90%
It was a major result for Billericay Rugby Football Club when it agreed to let a telephone giant put up a 75ft mast beside its main pitch in return for thousands of pounds a year in rent.
Over the years the 1997 deal with Orange, now EE, helped fund floodlighting, drainage works, a clubhouse, three tennis courts, a cricket pitch and cafe that doubles as a pavilion at his Essex home.
But now the club, part of Willowbrook Sports and Social Club, faces an uncertain future because EE wants to slash the £8,240 annual rent it pays to as little as £750.
Threat: Billericay RFC’s chairman Neil Jarvis, left, and president Scott Fisher, right, and, circled, the EE mast
The club is among landowners all over the country facing cuts of up to 90 percent, many of them sports clubs, charities and churches.
These organizations only accept telephone masts because the rent helps them pay for facilities they otherwise would not be able to afford.
Yet some profit-hungry telecoms companies are expected to slash the rent they pay as a result of impending legislation that will allow them to rip up old contracts and pay landowners less for both existing and new masts.
It’s all part of the government’s determination to roll out a national 5G phone network. The Product Security and Telecoms Infrastructure legislation has its opponents.
Former Labor MP Anna Turley chairs a 1,000-strong campaign group called Protect and Connect, which is demanding a review of the legislation to ensure small landowners do not lose out on rent.
She told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The telecoms companies that install the masts are hugely profitable and have been handed generous state subsidies to roll out high speed networks – so it is wrong to expect communities to be forced to accept rental reductions of up to 90 per cent when many are already struggling to make ends meet.’
The move by EE is a shattering blow for the Billericay complex that offers facilities for rugby, tennis and cricket players.
Profit-hungry telecoms companies are expected to slash the rent they pay as a result of impending legislation that will allow them to rip up old contracts and pay landowners less
Entering the newly built ‘Beehive’ club facility on a wet and windy freezing morning, I am given a hearty warm welcome by rugby club chairman Neil Jarvis and president Scott Fisher.
The former ‘number eight’ Scott cuts an imposing figure at 6ft 5ins and weighs in at 24 stone. But this giant of a man is close to tears when he reflects on what might happen in the future under EE’s proposals. The 53-year-old says: ‘This rugby club is everything to us. It brings something special to our close-knit community.
‘It gives youngsters a great sporting facility where they can learn about respect and discipline – and build confidence as they grow up.’
He adds: ‘Then along comes a greedy telecoms giant that is trying to take away the financial support we so desperately rely on to survive as a club. So much blood, sweat and tears have been spent on building up this club over the last few years. We now fear this could all be undone.’
Willowbrook prides itself on the fact that since allowing the mast to be installed in 1997, every penny received in rent has been plowed back into facilities.
One of his proudest achievements is more than trebling the number of youngsters now training with the rugby club – with some getting involved at the age of just three. As many as 350 youngsters now play or train at the club every weekend.
Chairman Neil Jarvis, dressed smartly in the rugby club’s black and gold striped tie and blazer, shakes his head in disbelief at how this could all be lost.
He says: ‘We could quickly go under if the rent is cut so dramatically. We would never have agreed for this mast to be installed if we knew that the telecoms company would renege on its promise.’
The new legislation is expected to force sites such as Willowbrook Sports and Social Club to keep their masts rather than have them dismantled.
Mobile phone provider EE said: ‘We must balance individual site negotiations with the national need to invest in connecting more people, especially in remote areas.’