A NEW CASE DEALING WITH SOME OLD LAW
The case of The Royal Parks Ltd and others v Bluebird Boats Ltd  EWHC 2278 (TCC).
The issue of what is a chattel and what is a fitting is an interesting academic issue which can also amount to a practical problem in residential conveyancing.
The court provided a useful restatement of the obvious:
1) An item will be treated as being part of the land if:
a) the degree of annexation is such that the structure is permanently fixed to the land and can only be removed by a process of demolition
b) the purpose of such annexation must be that it should form part of the land.
2) An item will be treated as a chattel if it sits on the land but is otherwise unattached, unless there is objective evidence that it was intended to form part of the land.
- Where the item is annexed to the land but potentially removable, it will be treated as being part of the land if the purpose for which it was annexed was the permanent and substantial improvement of the land; but it will be treated as a chattel if the purpose for which it was annexed was temporary or for the more complete enjoyment and use of it as a chattel.
- The test as to the degree and purpose of such annexation is an objective one; it is not determined by the subjective intention of the parties or any contractual arrangements between them.
The Court held that the Boathouse was a fixture and hence part of the land.
The decision based on expert evidence was to the effect that the superstructure could be disassembled and removed by works of medium complexity taking about four weeks and the slab could only be removed by destroying it.
It was agreed by the parties’ experts agreed that 90% of the main structural steel frame could be removed and re-used in another location, but the threaded rods and bolts fixing the steel columns to the concrete floor slab would not be capable of removal and would have to be cut off at the base. 90% of the windows and external doors could be removed and used elsewhere.
In addition, the following facts were important:
- The main steelwork and timber roof structure could be capable of relocation
- The membrane roof covering would be destroyed
- Internal timber framework could be reused but not the associated plasterboard walls and ceilings.
- The sanitary ware and kitchen cabinets could be reused
- Between 75 and 90% of the timber cladding could be re-used
The trial judge provided four reasons for concluding that the Boathouse was a fixture, not a chattel:
1) The Boathouse consisted of both the slab and the superstructure on her analysis, the Boathouse was permanently fixed to the land.
2) Even if the superstructure could be treated separately from the slab (as the Court of Appeal had done when considering a shed on a concrete base in Webb v Frank Bevis), its removal and re-use would amount to the salvage of parts, not the reinstatement of the whole.
3) The purpose for which the Boathouse was constructed was the permanent and substantial improvement of land by the Serpentine. This was supported by the fact that the erection of the Boathouse was the price for the grant of the concession.
4) Any subjective intention that Bluebird had to erect a building that could easily be dismantled and removed was not determinative (and the Judge did not accept that the evidence established that there had been such an intention).