Seminar report: From our event for landowners and managers considering developing a hut site on their land

Report prepared by Neil Hutson

A Historic Milestone

FOLLOWING the recent success of planning regulation changes at the end of 2016, Reforesting Scotland held a one day landowners’ seminar in late April at the Falkland Centre for Stewardship in Fife. Attendees included private landowners, investors and representatives from industry, all united by their interest in the hutting movement.

The purpose of the seminar was to gather together like-minded individuals and start a conversation about the current state of hutting in Scotland and where the future opportunities lie. Current demand for huts far outstrips supply, but we hope to change that by encouraging shared hutting sites on private, community and publicly owned land.

While attendees were from diverse backgrounds, everyone had a common goal – to learn more about hutting. Some had already dabbled in the world of hutting or perhaps glamping, but most recognised the difference between short-stay tourism sites and the creation of long term shared hutting sites and the community created around them.

Presentation and Updates

During the seminar the attendees heard updates from Reforesting Scotland on the progress of two trial hutting sites (at Carnock and Falkland) and the Thousand Huts Campaign. Presentations were also given by representatives from Forest Enterprise Scotland, Community Land Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates and Savills.

Carnock Wood

Donald McPhillimy from Reforesting Scotland and Richard Heggie from Urban Animation, have worked extremely hard over the past 3 years progressing the hutting site at Carnock Wood in Fife. Working in conjunction with Forest Enterprise Scotland the aim of the project has been to create a framework for prospective hutters, landlords and council planning offices to follow and replicate in the future.

After a detailed planning process, full planning permission is hoped for soon. The Carnock Wood site will consist of 10 huts plus 2 huts reserved for local people, as well as a communal space which could be used by the local primary schools.

Richard offered his tips for dealing with council planning offices. Typically they want to know:

  • How many huts?
  • Where are they going to be placed?
  • Where will people park?
  • Will there be composting toilets?
  • Will any trees need to be removed?
  • Addressing these questions quickly will greatly help any hutting project

Andrew Clark from Forest Enterprise Scotland briefly talked about the advantages of the leasing model that will be implemented at Carnock Wood. Hutters will be encouraged to form a community group which will manage individual hut leases and liaise with Forest Enterprise Scotland. This allows the land managers to remain largely hands-off but ultimately retain control of the site.

FALKLAND ESTATE
The ethos of hutting was nicely summarised during Ninian Stuart’s presentation.

The building a of huts by and for the people of Scotland who don’t have access to the land and the chance to enjoy a small, simple dwelling on the land”- Ninian Stuart

This ethos is reflected in the hutting site project within the Falkland Estate. The project started 7 years ago following Ninian’s transformative experience of building and enjoying his own hut. At the time he received help from a local craftsman to build his hut and has since been working to give others the opportunity to do the same.

The proposed hut site is within Cash Woods near to Pillars of Hercules farm and café. The plan is to allow hutters to either purchase kits from the estate and build their huts themselves, or allow the estate to supply and build the hut. Wood for the huts built by the estate will be provided from their own working woods.

Hutters at the Falkland site will be asked to abide by both a design agreement and voluntary code of practice. Similarly to the Carnock Wood site hutters will lease the land and form a community group for managing the site and liaise with the Falkland Estate.

Maggie Mitchell, Director of Business Development for the Falkland Estate Trust, was able to share the process of establishing the hutting site as a business prospect. The woods around Falkland estate are traditionally used for forestry, so any activity that replaces this needs to be financially sustainable. In this sense the Cash Wood hutting site is perhaps more relevant to the average landowner. While this hutting site has good, holistic intentions it’s important to realise that it’s not a charitable endeavour. Whatever is established within the site needs to be self-supporting and at least minimally income generating.

Maggie also stressed the importance of a robust tenancy agreement for the protection of both the landowners and hutters. Clear and frequent communication will be key for the arrangement to function.
Ninian and Donald playfully described their projects as a two horse race to be the first new hutting site in Scotland since 1947. A race which is seemingly close to finishing.

Thousand Huts

“Making hutting accessible and affordable for urban people to get back into nature for health and wellbeing” – Karen Grant

Karen Grant from Reforesting Scotland provided a brief update on the Thousand Huts campaign. To date the campaign has successfully lobbied for the inclusion of a definition of a hut in the 2014 Scottish Planning Policy and a relaxing of the building regulation rules around hut building.

The campaign also just released their guidelines for a hutting voluntary code of good practice. It contains vital information about planning matters, hutters’ rights, landowner rights and lease suggestions.

Karen was quick to point out that hutting is fundamentally different from seemingly similar prospects such as rental holiday homes or glamping sites. Hutting is fundamentally about creating a connection back to nature. For shared hutting sites it’s about creating a real community of likeminded individuals who are committed to stewardship and preservation of the natural environment around them. Hutting sites are a long term investment for all parties concerned.

Savills

Angus Dodds from Savills is a long-time advocate of the hutting movement. He warned of the reputational damage that could be done to hutting if the basic design parameters were ignored and the original low-impact ethos was lost. He cited accommodation sharing websites as a current example of where a good idea has suffered reputational damage, owing to a perception that they are creating conflict between different groups as a result of departing from their original purpose.

Angus and Savills believe that hutting doesn’t need to be reserved for the privileged few but rather should be open and available to as many people as possible.

Community Land Scotland

Linsay Chalmers from Community Land Scotland was on hand to provide a view of the hutting movement from the perspective of community landowners. They are drawn to hutting due to the coming together of communities and the boost to the local economy unlike holiday/second homes which harm local economies by driving up house prices.

However the primary driver for community landowners is to increase the number of permanent residents in the area, especially in areas of falling populations, so they are interested  in projects like hutting which can increase quality of life and make the most of resources in a low impact way.

Falkland Site Tour

After a morning of presentations, updates and discussions a quick taxi ride was necessary to make the journey to Cash Wood, the site for the Falkland Estate hutting project.

After a brief introduction from the Reforesting Scotland team, attendees were led round the site in small groups and invited to explore and imagine the sights and sounds of the near future as this humble strip of woodland fills with hutters. Proposed hut plots had been marked out with wooden stakes to give a feel for the layout of the site.

In the distance across the field it was just possible to see Ninian’s own personal hut, the next stop on the tour.

A simple and elegant structure, Ninian’s hut has all he needs for a comfortable overnight stay and peaceful retreat. Attendees were also able to meet Ninian’s hutting neighbour Willy Slavin who kindly opened his door. 77 year old Willy from Glasgow describes himself as a hermit with an ipad and spends a lot more time in his humble hut than Ninian.

Questions and Answers

Throughout the day attendees were encouraged to ask questions and strike up discussions. These are just some of the questions which came out on the day.

Q. Is planning scrutiny for a single hut less than for a hutting site?

The issues faced by a single hut are slightly different to those faced by a hutting site. Individual huts do require planning permission but their purpose is more easily understood and less likely to face opposition.

A group of 5, 10 or 15 huts becomes much more visible. Planning problems are multiplied and planning permission is required. At the Carnock Wood site the Thousand Huts campaign has had to navigate a prolonged but hopefully ultimately successful planning application process.

Q. How much detail needs to go into a pre-planning application?

The advantage of the pre-planning application process is that planners will let you know what additional information they require. Essentially, they will want to know where your site is and what you want to do on it.   Simple hut designs would be useful at this stage. Remember to stick within the definition of a hut given within the 2014 Scottish Planning Policy.

Q. Can you apply for general planning permission for a site and let individual hutter apply for their own additional permission?

Planners generally want to know what to expect from the outset of the process. Therefore, they need to know a certain amount about hut designs at the pre-planning stage. They will be relatively flexible, so hut designs can be adjusted within reason during the process. Cooperate with the planners’ requests and keep good lines of communication open.

A planning concept known as ‘non-material variation’ can allow hutters to introduce individuality to their huts, so long as they make use of the same materials and are roughly the same size as the other huts on the site. Individual hutters can still apply for their own planning permission later on down the line if they want a more radical design, however this would cause an amendment to the planning application and would have a cost.

Plot passports and design codes are another way of creating hut design flexible during the planning stage. This would allow for a change in hut design so long as it abided by the approved design code.

Q. What are the infrastructure costs at Carnock Wood and Falkland Estate hutting sites?

These are still largely unknown but are much less than those for building a house. Within the low impact ethos, infrastructure is kept to a minimum. For example, cars should be parked near the entrance of the site, and tracks should be kept to a minimum level of impact. The main costs could be access to a car park (already present at Carnock via a forest road), building a car park capable of taking the cars of all the hut owners, a possible temporary track to bring building materials to the various sites and a water supply to stand pipes. All the other costs – for example, building the huts on simple above the ground foundations would be the responsibility of the hutters.

Q. What’s your opinion on wood burning stoves? Will they be allowed in the Carnock and Falkland sites?

Yes! For many hutters the humble wood burning stove is a quintessential part of their hut, providing heat, cooking facilities and a comforting glow all year round. However wood burning stoves can also be dangerous, especially in buildings predominantly constructed from wood. Details on safely fitting a wood burning stoves will be found within the Good Practice Guide to Hut Construction to be published soon.

Q: Did SEPA raise any concerns about composting toilets during the planning permission process?

In Carnock Wood the plan is to use dry composting toilets. While applying for planning permission the planning office initially raised concerns about leaching of waste into waterways, but were satisfied with the proposed plans. SEPA on the other hand is not expected to take an interest in the composting toilets on any hutting site.

Q. How do you plan to deal with waste water from cooking and washing, etc?

Huts aren’t expected to generate a significant amount of waste or grey water. A simple small scale solution such as a soakaway should be more than satisfactory to deal with waste water. Another solution would be for individual hutters to collect waste water and dispose of it appropriately like in a caravan or motorhome.

Q: Is there a requirement to provide access to hutting sites by car?

Not specifically. Having decent access by car to the hutting site is useful during the building process, however there’s no requirement that it should be provided. In Carnock Wood local planners did show an interest in the ability for emergency vehicles to access the site car park, but not the hutting site directly.

In order to increase accessibility strong public transport links to a hutting site can be beneficial. However it quickly becomes a trade-off between accessibility and a desirable level of ‘remoteness’.

Q: Do huts and hutters benefit from permitted development after the hut has been built?

Huts have no permitted development rights. If hutters wish to build additional wooden buildings or additional decking after the initial construction of their hut, they should discuss this with their local planning officer.

Q: Does Reforesting Scotland have any experience in building within Scotland’s two National Parks?

Not directly but there have been very preliminary discussions. In theory, a hutting site or an individual hut could be an appropriate development within the national parks. Like any other development, planning permission would be granted based on the detail within the planning application. In due course both national parks are likely to produce their own guidance on hutting. Although national parks planning offices are often more supportive of tourism development, this remains to be tested with a hutting site.

Q: Can a group of people apply for joint lease in a single hut?

This isn’t something that has been attempted yet, although the potential benefit is obvious – a group of people sharing a hut. However it also raises issues such as potentially increased occupancy. At the moment there are no rules about the number of days a hut can be occupied, so long as it’s not the hutters’ primary residence.

It is expected that most landlords will encourage their hutters to form a group (perhaps with a similar structure to a sports club, for example), meaning the landlord can deal with the group rather than individual hutters. If the social group is able to work out a shared lease arrangement for a hut then there’s nothing stopping it from happening.

Want to start your own project?

Reforesting Scotland can help advise you on your own project. Don’t hesitate to get in touch at huts@reforestingscotland.org. Here are some final tips to remember for a successful hutting site:

  • Try to pick a suitable site where the natural environment lends itself to hutting.
  • Keep open lines of communication during the planning process and be clear about your plans
  • Foster the involvement of the local community
  • Keep the hutting site affordable but also financially sustainable. Hutting should be for the many, not the privileged few.
  • You may wish to ask the hutters to form a group to make administration more manageable by removing the need to deal with individuals.

More information can be found in the forthcoming Good Practice Guide and Voluntary Code of Good Practice. In the meantime –  to the hills, to the huts, to happiness

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