Thanks to the changes in planning policy the door is open for new hut sites, and we very much hope that this Autumn will bring an announcement from the Scottish Government about exemptions for huts from most building regulations.
These two important steps open up new possibilities for hutting in Scotland. The Thousand Huts campaign was set up to remove barriers to hutting and help support the development of a new hutting movement in Scotland. The campaign’s vision for this movement is that it would be accessible to people of all income brackets – that the benefits of hutting would improve the lives of everyone who needed it. But how can this vision become reality?
Are affordable huts a pipe dream?
Currently the demand for huts far, far exceeds the supply. We have a list of over 800 people who would like a hut – and this is surely the tip of the iceberg. Market forces and economic pressures will affect the cost of land rental for huts. Building huts, and preparing hut sites with access, water and any other services all cost money. Sometimes it can be done cheaply, but often it costs a LOT of money, as we’re discovering with our own hut site pilot.
Fortunately there are several ways to keep hutting more affordable – albeit with a lot of effort and commitment by all involved.
Affordable hutting is something that no single organisation can deliver: it’s down to the efforts of all hutters, landlords and hut site management groups to help make it happen. It must be fundamental to the ethos of the new hutting movement.
Here are some suggestions of ways to make it happen. We’d love to hear your comments, criticisms and suggestions for making this list better.
Ten ways to help keep hutting affordable for all
1. Affordable organising: Follow the traditional hut site model. What we’re calling the traditional hut site model is actually a modernised version. The traditional model is that hutters pay ground rent to a landlord (which could be an individual or a public body or community organisation). We’re recommending that groups of hutters in a hut site then form a Hutters Trust (or similar body) to manage the site. This Trust can be responsible for sharing costs and work to make the site viable for all. As a constitituted group, this Trust may have more access to funding to help with these costs.
2. Affordable rents: Practice fair hutting. We are in the process of finalising a Voluntary Code of Conduct between Hutters and Landlords. It sets out points to form the basis of a fair tenancy agreement between hutter and landlord. We also have a team of volunteers working on analysing our Hutters Surveys. This contains data on existing ground rents and also what prospective hutters say they could afford. The results of these surveys will be used to help prospective site owners or managers to set fair rates for ground rent.
3. Buying land: Individuals getting together to buy land. With land prices as they are, owning land is not necessarily a viable option for an individual for affordable hutting. However, one of the ways it may be more possible is if a large group of people get together to share the cost of land purchase and site development. It’s worth keeping an eye on property auctions and an ear to the grapevine to find out when more affordable parcels of land become available. The Thousand Huts facebook group is another good way of hearing what is available. It may also be worth looking at possible legal structures for this type of group – following the model of housing co-operatives, for example, may be useful.
4. Buying land: Community groups purchasing a site. In recent years there has been a rise in support for community-ownership of assets. You will find a wealth of experience of this within bodies like the Development Trusts Association or the Community Woodlands Association. It can be done, with lots of hard work!
5. Renting land: Find a friendly landowner. Landowners may often get bad press, but you may be surprised by how many of them want to use their land for social benefit. Many are keen to get people back on their land and to feel that they are sharing what they have. We have been approached by many landowners who are interested in having a hut site on their land, and we are exploring the idea of a database of these opportunities. They all have different motivations – and though they often need to keep their business financially viable, many would like to see their land being used in a way that would increase the wellbeing of people in their area. It’s well worth approaching a landowner to see what they would think of the possibility of a hut site on their land. If an affordable ground rent is set, with good conditions, as per the Voluntary Code of Conduct between Hutters and Landlords (soon to be published), renting ground from a supportive landlord could be an achievable way of accessing land.
6. Affordable building: Two out of Three It’s a great truism of building that you can only have two of the three qualities (quick, cheap and good) that you may wish from your build. So you could spend a lot of money on labour and materials and end up with a quick and good building, but it won’t be cheap. You could spend lots of time sourcing reclaimed materials and working on your build yourself, and you may end up with a good building, but it won’t be quick. Or you can build quickly and cheaply, but perhaps not end up with the best quality! A cheap building is possible, but it will cost you time.
7. Affordable building: Keep it basic! Of course you can also build something affordable by aiming for something very small and simple, using reclaimed materials.
8. Sharing your hut. A really great way to keep hutting affordable would be for groups of friends to share a hut. That way the costs of the build and ground rent can be spread much further. If anyone is already doing this, or working on it as a possibility, we’d love to hear from you.
9. Subsidise an affordable hut on your site. If you are already part of a group running a hut site, perhaps your group might consider making a hut available at a subsidised rate to people who could not otherwise afford it. Or possibly making a partnership with a community organisation who might be able to give access to the hut for people they work with.
10. Keep working towards affordable, inclusive hutting indefinitely!