What does “forming part of the land” mean?

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Savoye v Spicers [2014] EWHC 4195. TCC, Akenhead

Facts

Spicers is an office stationers with a number of warehouses.  It gives Savoye a design build contract to install a new conveyor system in its premises at Smethwick.  The parties fell out and Savoye brought an adjudication for £900,000, which Spicers lost.  Spicers refused to pay because they said the Construction Act did not apply.  They argued that this was not a qualifying contract for “construction operations” because the conveyor system did not form part of the land when it had been installed.

TCC Held

  1. To be legally fixed or affixed to the land (as a fixture) an object does not need to be actually fastened to it.  An object which rests on the land under its own weight without mechanical and other fixings can still be a fixture.  This is a question of fact and intention.
  2. The conveyor belt system was bolted to the floor at various places.  These bolts could be undone and the system could be moved or dismantled.  This did not mean that it was not a fixture.

Comment

  1. The court referred to a number of cases where pieces of plant such as central heating have been installed and found to form part of the land so that the Construction Act applied to the relevant contract.  On the other hand, in a case involving shop counters (Gibson Lea v Makro) the court concluded that the shop fittings were not fixed to the land because they were intended to be removable after the installation works had finished if the customer wished to change the layout of his store
  2. Just because items can be relatively easily removed does not mean that they are not fixed to the land.  Radiators for example can be easily removed by a skilled plumber, in a matter of minutes.  Clearly the customer intended to make the equipment an important part of his business and intention was important.  It helped that the conveyor system was almost a kilometre long and bolted to the floor with thousands of bolts.
  3. The dispute was worth £900,000.  Both sides hired QC’s and spent a great deal of money repeating what they’d already done in adjudications.  Spicers won and asked for £200,000.  The court said this was grossly disproportionate and cut their costs in half.

For more information, help or advice please contact Rob Langley on 0191 211 7975.