The Humberston Fitties: magical but under threat

humberston075The Humberston Fitties are a colony of about 300 chalets, huts, and cabins on former salt marshes (“fitties”) on the Lincolnshire coast near Cleethorpes. The site began after the First World War and the freehold was acquired by the local council in 1938, with the chalet owners holding leases on their plots. North East Lincolnshire Council (NELC) has attempted to retain the character of the site using a mixture of planning control and conditions in the leases. There are currently two disputes between the chalet owners and the council: about the rule that they cannot sleep in the chalets in January and February; and the council’s plans to lease the site to the adjacent (massive) static caravan park run by Haven. At the end of this post is a gallery of 80 photos I’ve taken while walking around the site.

The site has made up tarmac roads, mains water, sewerage, electricity, and BT phone lines. There’s no gas supply but many residents use bottled gas, and a lot of the wooden chalets have external brick chimney stacks originally built for wood or coal fires and stoves, as you can see in the above photo. That chalet also has the distinctive “broken ridge” roof style, that usually comes from building a gabled roof, then adding a verandah with a shallower roof pitch, and then enclosing the verandah to add more space. Site rules can mean that this profile may survive major repairs or even a rebuild of the original wooden walls.

humberston018There does seem to be a community feel at the Fitties, with people talking over fences and charity fund raising events being organised and advertised in people’s windows. And then there’s the political activism due to the council’s behaviour.

There are two broad classes of plotlands development: freehold, of the type seen in the areas like Dunton in Essex, in which people buy their plot as well as the building they have on it; and leasehold, where they only rent the plot for a few years (or even months) at a time. The Fitties fall into the leasehold category and this has allowed the council to put stringent rules in place to keep a vaguely pre-war character to the site. Their Design Guide for instance puts “individuality” as a requirement, which is not the kind of thing you normally see councils enforcing. The length of lease allowed depends on the score of the building against the criteria in the guide, varying from 1 to 15 years.

humberston112The council also uses planning law to enforce their design rules and to exert control, and has declared the site to be a Conservation Area and put in place an Article 4(2) directive which restricts the permitted development rights that residential property normally has. So you can find yourself needing planning permission to put up small garden sheds etc, or to build porches or extensions which would normally be below the threshold for a planning permission application.

I think it’s particularly ironic that the council is trying to keep the Fitties almost frozen in time because it’s something worth having, but at the same time would crush any attempt to build a similar site elsewhere. This is the mentality of the museum rather than the way to have more of the real magic here that people value. The magic you can feel just walking round the place comes from that individuality and freedom that the original plotlanders created and then bequeathed to the current chalet owners. It’s not something you can create and nurture with regulations. It happens despite government and in defiance of attempts at creating manufactured, controlled environments.

windowThe most controversial aspect of the council’s rules seems to be the enforced closed season during January and February when owners are not allowed in their own chalets between 4pm and 10am.  Supposedly this is because of the risk of flooding but that’s transparent dishonesty by the council as winter flooding could happen in November and December too. One group of owners are actively campaigning to have this enforced absence limited to two weeks a year: the “50 weeks” a year campaign that has posters in some of the chalets’ windows.

Chris Shaw, the Labour council leader, has made multiple threats in his attempts to enforce the council’s chosen rules. He has threatened turning off electricity and mains water to the site during the closed season to discourage overnight stays; and he has deployed “security” guard patrols to try to catch people on site and promised to evict anyone caught during the nights of the forbidden months. This is “the State knows best” variant of socialism which Colin Ward argued against in “Arcadia for All” from a pragmatic anarchist perspective: the danger that government will decide what is best for people and then use the great power it has to enforce those decisions about people’s lives, crushing opposition by whatever means are available (control of electricity supply, deploying security patrols, etc.)

Bizarrely, the other dispute is the council’s proposal to sell or lease the site to a commercial owner. Haven Holidays, which owns the adjacent Thorpe Park static caravan site, seems to be their preferred option. Many chalet owners are naturally concerned about this, as the Fitties forms a strip between Thorpe Park and the beaches, and Haven’s business is putting static caravans on land they acquire, not being landlord to a few hundred individualists living in a unique community.

thorpeI did drive and walk around Thorpe Park during my visit. The caravans do look comfortable, the site is carefully landscaped and provided with lakes, trees, and activities, and it’s all a very “turn key” experience with things taken care of so you don’t need to worry about sorting it all out. But the rows of caravans were a soulless, regimented place compared to the Fitties. It would be a tragedy if a commercial owner was given the chance to spend 20 years running the Fitties down, driving out chalet owners, and then being able to convince a sympathetic council that the Fitties’ time had passed and it was necessary to clear away the mess and put in yet more rows and rows of identical, factory-built static caravans.

The next stage of this process is due to be formally discussed by the council later on October 13th (agenda and council leader’s report for the meeting). To me, a Carbeth style buyout of the freehold by an association run by the chalet owners would seem the safest option. People coming together to mutually help themselves, free of interference by (local) government puts the control in their own hands. Direct freehold ownership by individuals might be another option, but raising the money for that isn’t practical for everyone. Either way, we’d still have planning control to safeguard the needs of the wider community, rather than just enforce the council’s preferences.

The Fitties occupy the long strip of land with roads just to the west of the sea in this Google aerial view. Google Streetview is available for most of the roads, so you can wander around the site at ground level yourself too:


Humberston, North East Lincolnshire DN36 4EZ, UK

21 Replies to “The Humberston Fitties: magical but under threat”

  1. this is a very interesting article as I own a chalet on the fitties myself. It must be interesting going around Britain and Scotland researching these holiday parks.

      1. Iain,

        I would willingly accept that I am wrong, as I have admitted many times in a
        long life. However, my acceptance is on the basis that the wrongness of my view
        is supported with substantive evidence, not supposition.

        When I first read the Article 4(2) Directions for the Fitties, I thought, as
        most would, that it was a done deal and that was that. It had the stamp of
        authority from the Secretary of State, so who was I to argue?

        However, the terms and conditions for a local authority to alter permitted
        development rights, via an Article 4 Direction, are clearly laid out (see pages
        7/8) in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order
        1995, contained within data.pdf.

        So, whilst they have indeed created an Article 4(2) Direction, it is entirely
        their responsibility to ensure that it’s content is applied as stated, within
        the law. That they might not do so, and, chalet owners continue to accept
        NELC’s own ‘view’ of the law, is lamentable.

        In addition, there is a glaring error in this document which, when compared with
        that of the original, renders part of this change to the planning laws

        Please refer to:

        (vi) Erection or demolition of a wall, fence or means of enclosure (Class A,
        Part 2).

        Which just goes to demonstrate how much care was applied by NELC council
        officers and councillors in preparing and finally approving this, largely
        ineffective, Article 4(2) Direction.

    1. Is your position still that only a few chalets should be covered by the Article 4(2) directive as it is written? Even though unrestricted access by foot is sufficient to establish a common law highway (and the council’s website says foot and cycle access through the site to the dunes etc is unrestricted even during the curfew of the closed season.)

      1. The council implies a right to access the site when it is open, but the site’s roads, paths and tracks are maintained at the cost of the frontagers (the chalet owners). All the roads, paths and tracks are private.

        The pedestrian and vehicle entrance gates imply a restriction, whether used or not, which is confirmed by signs at the same location, and their closure during winter periods.

        Briefly, a common law claim would only be supported if use were continuous without permission. There are sufficient signs, located in the park, which indicates permitted pedestrian use in addition to those at the entrance.

        For the Article 4(2) Direction to be legally effective, for the majority of chalets, the roads, paths and tracks must be adopted as highways (public rights of way) and maintained by the local highway authority.

        I hope this helps.

  2. The council’s own website says this: “Access by foot or bicycle to the Humberston Fitties site to access beaches, nature reserves or sand dunes is unrestricted at any time.” This clear statement plus evidence of people enjoying unrestricted access on foot for 20 years would allow someone to establish the roads as highways in court if that was necessary – at least for pedestrians.

    I fully agree that the council is very sloppy. For example, where you quote “the roads and the footpaths are … not public rights of way, and are therefore not maintained by the Defendant in its capacity as the local highway authority”, they seem to imply they would have a duty to maintain highways in general, which is clearly rubbish. They only have to maintain adopted highways in their capacity as the local highway authority (excluding the Highways England roads, motorways etc.)

    So do you ignore the Article 4(2) direction then? With impunity?

    1. Where does the council give pedestrians permission to cross the site? The admission on their website is merely that pedestrian access is unrestricted. It doesn’t say that pedestrians have permission to cross. The sign on the main entrance makes no mention of it either (just when the gate is closed in the closed season.) What about the numerous access routes via the dunes?

      1. The council’s website doesn’t give permission to cross the site. It says it is unrestricted. That’s not the same thing. One is a license; the other is a statement of fact.

        Do you have a photo of one of the notices you refer to?

        And yes, a Carbeth style buyout would seem to solve a lot of problems 🙂

  3. The criticism that the Fitties is being treated as a museum may be valid…. however if you knew the details of the battle in the mid 1990s to prevent the sale of the site toThorpe Park who intended to stop renewing our very short leases and then get us to demolish the huts at our own expense you would understand that it was the only way to survive.
    Prior to that threat , the threat of extinction or meaninglessness came from the planning dept using modern building regs, who would, when awarding points for lease renewal, downgrade repairs to original windows and give high marks to plastic replacements. ban the use of tin roofs and insist on plastic imitation tiles. Encourage brick buildings etc. etc etc The Fitties was regarded as a slum… an eyesore We spent a year batlting with Cleethrpes council, and realising that though we won, by one vote in the council, after months of effort to persuade them not to raze us to the ground, and the mooted sale was off… they would try again and again. When Thorpe Park returned a year later with another offer, and the Battle started again we were desperate, until a local architect, Rex Critchlow suggested to me that we should try for conservation area… that would put off Thorpe Park who wouldn’t be able to force us off the land they were after. I took this task on, and The Fitties Preservation Society was formed to try to make this happen,
    During the first attempt to buy us, I’d already tried to change
    perception of the camp from eyesore to ‘Heritage’, and
    tried to familiarise the councillors with ‘plotlands’ etc, and got a Sunday mag to do an article by Jonathon Glancy with pretty pictures, So to formalise this new identity, make the Fitties a conservation area would be the answer to be allowed to exist securely. We finally did it during the last week of the existence of Cleethorpes Council with the support of the current Mayor who we eventually persuaded .

    We would never have achieved it with the current council. and the kind of lobbying we had to do, with constant photo displays, history lessons etc to committees, and hard persuasion of individual councillors, would all be made impossible by the new council rules and stucture, that Blair introduced where one leader and his own gang has all the power. SO… the restrictions that an Article 4 has inposed on us is of nothing compared to what our fate was meant to be.
    The first conservation officer was very supportive, and understood the need to allow for individual expression which is actually possible within the rules. BUt it seems that like the building inspectors previously, the imagination needed to really allow the place to develope and encourage individuality within the rules is very rare, and his successore don’t seem to have it. I gather people have to paint the windows whatever colour they once were, This is just daft,
    BUT the reward for all the irritation this causes…
    please remember
    It will prevent destruction by predatory forces.
    The Fitties only survived by the skin of its teeth, and the rules will keep it safe.

    ( My chalet now belongs to a friend… as we became
    unable to look after it due to caring reponsibilities and now old age. But I’m so happy they are all still there and flourishing. It’s a magical place)

    Alfreda Ellidge

    1. Thank you for your comments. It’s always good to read something, from those that have past experiences, good or bad, of this unique location.

  4. The ‘threat’ is being realised at Humberston Fitties.
    Development on the vacant plots is being approved by the weak local authorities under pressure from developers and big business.
    After refusing planning permission on one chalet being built, they have relented and allowed another, despite pressure from all sides, including the Environment Agency.
    This opens the floodgates to more.
    And the new landlord Tingdene and Thorpe Park next door have almost succeeded in demolishing The Fitties’ soul.
    Many chalets are up for sale, and more will no doubt follow, whilst the world focuses on more important issues, leaving many chalet owners disheartened in the extreme.
    They’re being bought up by richer folk as holiday business chalets, to make money on the back of previous battles won against destruction by the very authorities charged with preserving heritage assets.
    The (now) conservative council is no better than their predecessors who have sold the family silver to a bunch of bullies, hell bent on proving it a flourishing business by screwing every last Penny out of the chalet owners.
    They say they regret it being sold to an outside organisation, but have done little to make things better, or right.
    The landlords now charge 5 times what the council did. This is more than most can afford these days. So it will become an elitist’s haven, rather than the homes of many hundreds of elderly, who previously felt safe while the council had it. Now those still around are selling up or already have.
    The heart that kept it’s spirit alive is dying and looks on its last legs.
    Before long the predicted destruction will be complete as those remaining chalet owners cease to afford the exorbitant fees. Many rely on food hand-outs.
    Many are pensioners, and disabled in some way.
    All are elderly and vulnerable, but nobody seems to care that not only is this morally wrong, but the council will one day be finding and funding homes for these folk, at council tax payers expense, when it’s nobody’s fault but the council’s.

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