Last June’s inclusion of huts in the new Scottish Planning Policy amounted to just a few words. But one small step for planning policy is a giant leap for all those who dream of spending time in a small, simple cabin in the woods. The policy makes reference to huts, suggesting that Local Authorities consider them for intermittent recreational use. Crucially, it includes the following definition of a hut:
A simple building used intermittently as recreational accommodation (i.e. not a principal residence); having an internal floor area of no more than 30m²; constructed from low impact materials; generally not connected to mains water, electricity or sewerage; and built in such a way that it is removable with little or no trace at the end of its life. Huts may be built singly or in groups.
Contained in this simple definition are all the elements that make a hut a sensitive and low-impact development: small size; environmentally appropriate materials; and off-grid living.
A shared hutting history
Like many other Northern European countries, Scotland has a long history of this type of hutting. Between the First and Second World Wars there was a flurry of new hutting. Industrial workers from the urban centres of Scotland would build a simple hut, often using materials scavenged and reclaimed from wherever they could. These huts tended to be built on land owned by a sympathetic landowner, who made an informal agreement with the hutter, based on an often minimal ground rent. These huts became a hub of family life over weekends and holidays for several generations. Gradually there have been waves of evictions as the landowners who initially made the informal agreement were succeeded by their heirs, or the land was sold. Since most hutters had no formal lease, many of these evictions have happened in a quite brutal way and with little warning.
Time and place for hutting in Scotland?
The campaign to support the new policy through its consultation period highlighted an incontrovertible fact: there are an enormous number of people out there who are inspired and invigorated by the idea of a small, simple hut in the woods. Over 785 people responded to the planning policy consultation specifically on the issue of huts – more people than responded on any other issue, even wind farms. Since then, Reforesting Scotland’s Thousand Huts campaign has been inundated with hut enthusiasts. The Facebook group has over 2300 members, the emailing list is constantly growing, and 420 people have responded to a survey detailing exactly what kind of hut they would like, and where. Hundreds of people attended a very buoyant Hutters Rally in Maryhill in Glasgow, and took a double-decker bus excursion to Scotland’s largest hutting site at Carbeth, which boasts 140 huts, and whose hutting community last year managed to buy the land their huts sit on, securing the hutting site in perpetuity.
So how did we get to this point?
In January 2013 Reforesting Scotland’s Thousand Huts campaign presented the briefing paper ‘Hutting in Scotland: Expanding the possibilities’ to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead. He immediately saw the potential for huts to deliver better health, happiness and wellbeing, better community involvement with the natural environment, and a sustainable opportunity for rural development. In Spring 2013 a parliamentary motion in support of hutting was supported by 38 Members of the Scottish Parliament. Then in June 2014, the new Scottish Planning Policy was published – including a reference to, and definition of, huts. The door to new hutting had opened.
In Spring 2014 Reforesting Scotland began working with Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) to plan a Pilot Hut Site on public forest land. From three proposed sites, a preferred site at Carnock in Fife was selected. A community consultation began and was met by a favourable response. Design guidance has been worked up, and a response was submitted to Fife Council’s consultation on the new Local Development Plan, making the case for huts to be included in it.
In 2014 Reforesting Scotland hosted two major hutting events in Edinburgh and Glasgow, including the Hutters Rally at Maryhill Burgh Halls in Glasgow (pictured) is a resounding success. Over 420 people completed our survey stating that they would like to become a hutter. Hutting has also captured the public imagination, receiving an enthusiastic media response, including: BBC Scotland ‘Scotland 2014’; BBC Radio Scotland ‘Out of Doors’; The Sunday Mail; The Sun; The Herald.
Reforesting Scotland has developed a Working Group on Hut Design, including architects, builders and academics from Napier University’s Centre for Offsite and Innovative Structures. This is also looking at how Scottish timber use can be stimulated through hut building. The campaign communicates regularly with Scottish Government’s Building Standards Division to help inform the setting of an appropriate level of building regulations for huts. Reforesting Scotland has also been working to find ways of protecting the rights of hutters and landowners in the future through voluntary codes and a legislative route.
A framework for supporting new hutting: Starting with a Voluntary Code and working towards legislation
A framework needs to be in place with legal backing for a balanced relationship between hutters and their landlord. Since both parties are taking a considerable risk, in that the hutter owns a building on the landowner’s land, a fair and legally binding agreement is essential so they both can have confidence to invest in it. Reforesting Scotland envisages that this would initially be based on a Voluntary Code of Good Practice, set out by a newly founded Hutters Federation, whereby landowners and hutters could sign up to hallmarks of good practice and the basis for a contract of rights between hutter and landlord. The next step could be to put this balance of rights into legislation which would set out the issues to be covered by any hutting lease (without being too restrictive about the actual terms). This would give the legal backing to a fair agreement to help hutters and landlords avoid any potential disputes.
Sustainable local use of Scottish timber
Finally hut-building is one way to promote and encourage sustainable and innovative use of Scotland’s timber resource. What better way than to build a dwelling in a wood from the last harvest of trees? Moreover huts are of a scale that they can built by ordinary Scots who are not engineers, or architects or builders. And huts have the potential to enable people to both reconnect with nature and discover qualities and skills that have lain dormant. No wonder hutting mania is taking hold…