(Picture by Jack Hughes and Lucy Eccles)
70 years ago Scotland had a thriving hutting culture. Hundreds of small wooden huts were dotted around the country. Families paid ground-rent to landowners in return for the opportunity to build a simple hut for recreational use. These charming low-impact buildings gave an opportunity for industrial workers on low wages to get out to the fresh air and peace of the natural environment with their families. Many adults today reminisce about the happy times they spent hutting as a child.
Until recently, the lack of any formal recognition of hutting in Scottish planning policy or building regulation has been an impediment to the building of new huts. However, thanks to charity Reforesting Scotland’s Thousand Huts Campaign, this is all in the process of changing – and the good news is that there is now the opportunity for hut culture to grow in Scotland once again.
A new era was ushered in when Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) was revised in 2014 to include supportive policy on huts, and indicating that the demand for huts for recreational use is one of the matters that should be addressed in the preparation of local authorities’ development plans. Planning permission will still be required for huts but planners now have huts clearly defined in policy.
Reforesting Scotland has produced planning guidance for new hut developments based on the SPP 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.
Now the Scottish Government is in the final stages of drafting new legislation setting out how huts relate to building regulations. This will substantially reduce the regulatory burden on huts, minimising the need for building warrants.
To support the successful rolling out of this new legislation Reforesting Scotland will publish a new Good Practice Guide to Hut Construction to coincide with the Scottish Government’s new legislation.
Reforesting Scotland has also produced a Voluntary Code of Good Practice between Hutters and Landowners, to help form the basis of tenancy agreements for future hut ground leases. This document is designed to help ensure that equitable formal agreements protect the rights of both parties.
In a recent survey of 60 hutters, conducted by Reforesting Scotland, we found that 50% of those surveyed paid less than £50 per month for their ground rent. An important part of our campaign has been to keep huts affordable. In the new wave of hutting, there is a risk that market forces push rents up. Hutting should not be confused with glamping – which can take in high nightly rates. It is very important that huts are an affordable opportunity to spend time in nature for those on lower incomes.
For the landowner the benefit of hutting as compared to glamping is that they build trust over a longer-term relationship with the hutters who return again and again to their huts. Where glamping is just a simple type of accommodation in which people may spend a couple of nights and then never return, hutting creates a longer-term relationship with a specific place. Traditionally the hutter pays ground rent to a landlord and builds a hut on the site. Normally, the hut is owned by the hutter, however this right is dependent on the terms of a lease agreement between the hutter and the landlord. It enables people to return over a number of years or decades, deepening their connection with the land. The benefits for children, or those with mental and physical health problems are particularly important. A hut site is much lower maintenance than a glamping site because it is populated by people who have a long-term commitment and responsibility to the place – and may have some maintenance responsibilities enshrined in their lease. So for a landowner, hut sites could be a reliable regular income for minimal input.
When you develop a hut site on your land, you are helping give people a chance to connect with their natural environment, deepening their understanding of the natural world. Families can return again and again to the same place, giving children a sense of belonging to a wild place – an escape from video games and social media, and a chance to live a more practical, earthier life.
On Thursday April 27th, Reforesting Scotland will host a seminar for landowners and managers interested in starting a hut site, in collaboration with Community Land Scotland, the Community Woodlands Association and Scottish Land and Estates. The event will include workshops, speakers, site visits and lots of information to help you progress your plans for a hut site on your land. To register an interest in attending the event, please contact Donald McPhillimy on firstname.lastname@example.org - it’s almost at full capacity but there will be a waiting list for those interested in further events in the future.
Karen Grant is a member of the Campaign Team for Reforesting Scotland’s Thousand Huts Campaign.