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Parks body wins dispute over ownership of boathouse next to Serpentine Lake

The Royal Parks Limited (TRP) has won a dispute concerning the ownership of a boathouse and jetties located on the north west side of the Serpentine Lake in London’s Hyde Park.

InThe Royal Parks Ltd & Anor v Bluebird Boats Ltd [2021] EWHC 2278 (TCC) the defendant company, Bluebird Boats, has operated boating facilities at the Serpentine for the public since 1998.

By a concession contract dated 17 December 2004, made between the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Bluebird, the defendant company agreed to replace the existing boathouse and jetties with the boathouse and to provide boating services at the Serpentine Lake.

The original contract period of fifteen years was extended by agreement of the parties to 10 November 2020 but thereafter the contract expired.

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Bluebird’s concession has not been renewed, although it has been extended on an interim basis pending resolution of a challenge in separate proceedings by way of judicial review.

In these proceedings, TRP and the Secretary of State sought declaratory relief as to the ownership of the boathouse, together with orders to restrain the defendant from continuing to trade from the boathouse and from removing the boathouse from Hyde Park.

The claimants' case was that the boathouse is part of Hyde Park; it was constructed to form part of the land and belongs to the Crown. The defendant had no right to remove the boathouse on expiry of its interim concession rights in October 2021, they said.

Bluebird’s case was that it retained ownership of the boathouse which remained a chattel and was not a fixture to the land; alternatively the claimants were estopped from denying the defendant's ownership of that part of the boathouse that could be removed.

The defendant said the boathouse had been designed so that it could be assembled in parts at the lakeside and subsequently dismantled. The boathouse was a substantial capital investment for the company and was intended to be removeable in the event the concession ended by effluxion of time or otherwise, it was submitted.

In a ruling issued on 11 August Mrs Justice O’Farrell found for the claimants. She concluded that:

i) The boathouse comprised both the superstructure and the substructure, including the concrete slab.

ii) By reason of the extent of annexation of the building to the land, and the purpose of its design and construction as a permanent enhancement to the land, the boathouse had become part of the land and was owned by the Crown.

iii) The terms of the contract precluded the defendant from dismantling and removing the boathouse from its location in Hyde Park.

iv) The claimants were not estopped from denying the defendant's ownership of any part of the boathouse that could be removed from the land.

In January 2021 Bluebird was given permission to bring judicial review proceedings in relation to the decision by TRP not to grant it an extension to a concession contract for the operation of boating facilities in Hyde Park, on the Serpentine and in Greenwich Park.

In Bluebird Boats Ltd, R (On the Application Of) v The Royal Parks Ltd [2020] EWHC 3647 (Admin) Bluebird Boats also applied for interim relief pending the full decision of the court but this was unsuccessful.

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