AGRICULTURAL landowners will almost invariably have utility company-owned apparatus running somewhere across their property – whether this is electricity lines, water pipes or gas pipes.

Utility companies will, at times, need to access such infrastructure to carry out repairs, replacements or upgrades, but as Jacqueline Barr agricultural expert at Pearsons & Ward in Malton explains, farmers should ensure their rights are protected before they enter into any access agreement.

Utility companies usually have statutory powers of entry onto land under legislation such as the Water Industries Act 1991, Electricity Act 1989 or Gas Act 1986, but exercising these powers can be expensive and time-consuming, and most companies generally prefer to reach a negotiated agreement with the landowner instead.

The two main access agreements for this type of situation are through the use of a wayleave or an easement.

A wayleave involves a utility company making annual payments to a landowner in return for the right to enter private land to install and maintain their infrastructure equipment. A wayleave is usually a temporary arrangement and does not automatically transfer to a new owner or occupier.

An easement (also known as a deed of grant) allows for similar rights of access to repair, replace or install infrastructure equipment, but involves the utility company making a one-off payment for permanent access. The easement can be registered at the Land Registry to ensure future owners of the land are bound by it.

Landowners can request that an annually paid wayleave be replaced with a one-off payment through an easement, but not the reverse.

The works that utility companies need to carry out on a farmer’s land may sometimes be quick and relatively straightforward – for example, if they need to make adjustments to a pylon in a disused area of the land.

Sometimes, however, major works are required which can be both highly disruptive and costly to the landowner. Such operations may need to take place over a much longer period of time, and affect access to the land or the use, or value, of the land itself.

It is imperative to take legal advice before any access agreement is reached and work allowed to go ahead.

How a solicitor can help

A specialist property law and agricultural lawyer can advise you of the options available to you and help you assess which one will work best for you.

They can draw up the agreement to ensure that your rights are protected and that you will be indemnified for any losses that you suffer as a result of the works.

This could include compensation for loss of the use or access to the land, crop loss any damage caused to the land by the work, or any working time you have lost as a result of the work taking place.

They can also ensure that the utility company will be responsible for reimbursing you for any professional advice you have had to pay for as a result of the work.

This could include legal fees, or for the services of a professional surveyor who you may need to engage to act on your behalf to assess the quantum of damages caused by the work and submit a claim for compensation.

For more information about this, phone Jacqueline Barr, head of agriculture at Pearsons & Ward in Malton, on 01653 692247 or email