The High Court has decided that a former landowner's conversion claim failed in respect of solar panels remaining at the sold site, but succeeded in respect of fish stocks in the site's lakes.
The claimant had owned a commercial fishery, which included nine man-made lakes and pools. The defendant bought the land from the claimant acting by an LPA receiver. The sale contract did not address the solar panels at the site, or the fish stocks in the lakes. The claimant therefore argued that it was, at all material times, the owner of the solar panels and the fish.
The court held that in this particular case the solar panels and associated equipment were fixtures on the property, which passed automatically with the sale of the land to the defendant.
The solar panels became fixtures for two reasons:
The method and degree of annexation. The solar panels were fixed to a metal frame, bolted onto a wooden platform, concreted into the land. The structure must be considered as a composite whole. The degree of attachment to the land meant the panels were fixtures.
The object and purposes of the annexation. The panels' purpose was to receive sunlight and convert it into electricity, to power equipment in the site's restaurant (with any surplus being sold to the National Grid). The panels' purpose was not for their use independently of the land, but for their use as an integral part of the land itself.
With regard to the fish, the court had to determine, for the first time, the legal nature of fish stocks in a commercial fishery. There was no absolute property in a living wild animal. However, the Claimant had a qualified property in those fish introduced into, and isolated in, a closed water system. As the sale contract had not addressed title to the fish, they did not pass to the defendant on the sale of the land.
This case highlights the importance of considering which items pass with a sale of land and that matters such as solar panels and rights regarding animals should be expressly dealt with in a contract.
It seems to me clear, that the purpose of the solar panels was not for their use independently of the land, but for their use as an integral part of the land itself. They were to receive sunlight falling upon the land and to convert it into electricity. In my judgment, having regard both to the method and degree of annexation, and also to the object and purposes of the annexation, the solar panels became fixtures and ceased to be chattels. As such, they passed with the land to the defendant and the claimant therefore ceased to be able to assert any title thereto.