Law firm specialising in wayleaves obtains Ofcom powers

Trenches: Founders Terry Daniell and Sharon McDermott

A law firm specialising in wayleave agreements has obtained Ofcom code powers to support the roll-out of full-fibre broadband through its sister company in what is believed to be the first move of its kind.

Sharon McDermott, who founded Trenches Law with Terry Daniell in 2017, said the powers would enable it to secure agreements with freeholders for multiple properties and assign them to operators.

Ms McDermott, a former head of legal at Virgin Media, said a lot of people were getting left behind in the move to full-fibre broadband, and the gap was getting “wider and wider”.

A wayleave is a contract between the owner or occupier of land and a communications or other company, giving it a right of access to install or maintain cables or other equipment for a fixed period in return for a payment.

Ms McDermott is managing director of Trenches Law and Mr Daniell operations director. Trenches Law is a trading name of Trenches Limited, an alternative business structure, which they both own.

The law firm, based in Fleet, Hampshire, specialises almost entirely in communications law, and particularly wayleave agreements.

They launched Trenches Wayleave as a separate sister company in 2019. The company, with 25 staff, is now bigger than the law firm, which employs four solicitors and two paralegals.

Mr Daniell said Trenches Wayleave specialised in securing wayleave agreements enabling communications companies to install and operate equipment.

“What we’re finding is that multi-dwelling units and multi-business units get left behind because of the complex ownership structure.

“Operators often ignore them, particularly with the cost of living and increased price of materials. We obtained code powers to facilitate unblocking the system.”

Ms McDermott said they realised that obtaining a single wayleave agreement for an operator with a freeholder was a “wasted opportunity” where there were a number of blocks of flats.

Having code powers, under section 106 of the Communications Act 2003, means that Trenches Wayleave can enter into an agreement with a freeholder covering multiple blocks of flats, which can then be assigned to an operator.

She said the aim was to help the government achieve its goal of 85% full-fibre access by 2025.

Ms McDermott said she was in a “very fortunate” position at Virgin because it was the first to expand its full-fibre network.

“The problem for lawyers is that wayleaves are a tiny bit of property law. We are very unusual in having the expertise and the administration skills.”

She said the fees charged by lawyers, managing agents and surveyors created “many barriers in terms of costs” to the roll-out of full fibre.

She added that she and Mr Daniell would be visiting the USA in March this year, which was “very far” behind the UK on full fibre and had a similar wayleave problem, to explore the possibility of Trenches expanding its operations there.

Meanwhile, Mr Daniell said charging electric vehicles posed many of the same problems for people living in flats as installing broadband cables.

Mr Daniell said they had set up another company, Trenches EV [Electric Vehicle] Wayleave in 2022, which was now working with shopping centres and pubs to help solve the problem of where to charge vehicles.

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