“An intitiative dating back to the 1920s could make a comeback and see a hut built in a woodland near Gifford. The concept of hutting in Scotland dates back to between the First and Second World Wars. Now, plans are with East Lothian Council which would see a hut built in the southern section of Wynd Wood, to the west of Gifford.”
Lesley Riddoch has been a long standing supporter of the Thousand Huts campaign in Scotland, and an advocate for a resurgence of hutting. For the past decade she was working towards a PhD from the University of Strathclyde on hutting, and her new book, “Huts: a place beyond”, is her thesis reworked into a more popular format. I think the book will be a very helpful contribution to the movement, but there are some significant problems with it.Continue reading ““Huts: a Place Beyond” by Lesley Riddoch”
Another positive story, from last week’s Observer:
Now a ‘hutting’ revival is predicted after the Scottish government signalled that later this month it will change legislation to exempt huts from building regulations, allowing people to put up these most simple of second homes in the countryside wherever they can rent or buy a plot of suitable land, subject to planning permission.
BBC Radio Scotland’s “Out of doors” did a half-hour feature on hutting this morning, including interviews at the 2016 Hutters Rally in Kirkcaldy, at the new hutting site on Forestry Commission land near Saline, and with Lloyd Khan during his visit from the US. The programme touched on some important issues surrounding owning hutting land or renting, how hutters at a site can organise themselves, how hutting might catalyse regrowth in rural communities, and planning and building control.
I thought it was interesting that over thirty-five landowners were already looking to provide hutting sites. When you’re talking £500-£1000 per year for the ground rent of a hut on Forestry Commission land, it’s easy to see why landowners are interested. This is why I’m always banging on about planning permission: as soon as you start to get that sorted (as the Thousand Huts campaign is doing), the raw economics of huts and the low cost of suitable rural land (less than £2000/acre) start to make it all happen.
You can listen to it on its page on their website via BBC Radio iPlayer for the next 29 days.
Added Sat 21 May 2016: today’s episode of “Out of doors” had a discussion of the costs of building hut in the last few minutes. Last Sunday’s episode of “Landward” on BBC Two Scotland also had an item about hutting about 16 minutes in.
I’m not going to mince my words here. The Carbeth site north of Glasgow is the flagship of hutting in the UK. It’s long established (since the 1920s), large (98 acres, 143 huts in 2013), and owned by the hutters themselves. The buyout by the Carbeth Hutters Community Company in 2013 and the site’s existence itself has helped fuel the Thousand Huts campaign, which in turn is leading to reform of planning and building control in Scotland in favour of new hutting sites. Visiting Carbeth and going to the 2014 Hutters’ Rally prompted me to start blogging about hutting.
I didn’t take any pictures during that first visit, but this month I had the opportunity to stop by and have a walk round the site with my camera, including up to the planted pine area on the higher ground (which I included in my post about root plates.) I believe the site was just sheep pasture when regular camping started in the 1920s, and it’s notable that like many other hutting and plotland locations, it’s acquired a lot of trees and bits of woodland across the site. Hutting is often an agent of reforestation elsewhere too.
One of the things I try to look for when I visit a site are signs of organisation. How is the place run? What is provided? How well does it work? Is it self-organisation, or some external landowner or local government? As I mentioned above, Carbeth is now run by the hutters’ community company and this first picture is of the noticeboard as you go in with an AGM notice.
There’s also a community hut nearby with plastic chairs stacked outside and from what I remember of 2014 there’s a small library, board games, tables, and a little kitchen. At the very least you’re going to need so somewhere to hold meetings even when it rains, and it’s a good idea to have a use for it the rest of the time. Some allotment clubs have a village-hall sized shed too. The Humberston Fitties, which is the most similar site to Carbeth in terms of scale, have a Community Room hut (or rather, North East Lincolnshire Council does, and they’ve kept it locked when in disputes with the hutters in the past.)
Finally, there are basic services like the roadways and water supply, if any. One of the great battle grounds for English plotlands either side of the Second World War was whether the
plotlanders or the council would have the right or the responsibility to maintain roads and water pipes. At Carbeth I could see evidence of roadway repairs and here is a picture of one of the water standpipes and buried pipes that run across the site.
One of the constant questions for hutters is how to provide the services that the site doesn’t. I saw a few clues indicating septic tanks and people collecting rainwater in IBCs. Quite a few TV aerials and even one satellite dish. Some roofs have solar panels or even miniature wind turbines. Almost every roof had a chimney pipe and cowl, and I could smell wood smoke but also coal, and I saw lots of firewood stacks. For many people, self-reliance and spending time relying on simpler technologies that you can maintain yourself is part of the attraction of hutting.
Huts are still being built and rebuilt, often with modern techniques for wooden buildings including waterproof membranes. The oldest huts, that look just like the ones in Humberston from the 1930s and 1950s two hundred and forty miles away in Lincolnshire, tend to be shiplap which needs factory-machined boards. The next four pictures show Carbeth and Humberston huts side by side, both shiplap and overlap.
The majority that are overlap can be built with much less regular boards than shiplap, even including foot-wide boards with wavy edges done on a portable chainsaw mill at a felling site. I don’t know if that method was actually producing some of the timber for the Carbeth huts, but it does look as if it would be viable. Concrete block foundations were common, including this set laid out on one plot currently without a hut.
The distribution of huts is quite varied. The site averages two thirds of an acre per hut, but each hut’s plot is much smaller than that. The older ones have acquired fences or hedges, and maybe a few trees and outbuildings. Some are arranged in rows, plot against plot, especially on the hillside near the entrance above the Carbeth Inn. Others are in little groups, including some by crossroads or greens beside the roadways. A few are comparatively isolated, especially on the higher ground.
Carbeth has had it’s ups and downs, but it’s certainly on the up now, with solid collective ownership of the site and new huts being built. Above all, its existence demonstrates that hutting communities can work, and can be thriving almost a century after their foundation.
Reforesting Scotland’s Thousand Huts campaign has been systematically assembling the legal basis for a revival of hutting, with campaigning and targeted lobbying with local councils and Holyrood. Results so far include the inclusion of hutting in the Scottish Planning Policy for local planning authorities, Stirling Council proposing to include huts in their local plan, and a Scottish Government consultation on exemptions for huts in the building regulations. Last month saw the launch at the Scottish Parliament of the Thousand Huts campaign’s own “New hutting developments: Good practice guidance on the planning, development and management of huts and hut sites”.
This document is aimed at planning authorities, hut owners/builders, and hut site developers, and ties together the strands of historical context, hut design and siting, environment impact, planning and building regulations, and issues surrounding hut and site ownership. At 27 pages, each section is very concise but together they give a very comprehensive overview of what’s involved in reviving hutting.
I’m always trying to find connections and commonalities between the different traditions of huts, cabins, sheds, and chalets, and so I was really pleased to see this paragraph in Professor Peter Roberts’ foreward:
Huts have a long history of providing informal space for many uses; just think back to the pioneering Plotlanders in inter-war Southern England, the historic role of the caban as a place for debate and learning in Welsh quarries and mines, or the longstanding Dutch love of their ‘cottages’ set alongside canals and in allotments.
The Carbeth hutting site north of Glasgow is probably the most prominent hutting or plotland site and is often referred to in media coverage, both mainstream and independent. I’ve collected some of the YouTube videos about Carbeth that I’ve come across in this post.
There’s also a small collection of short clips from the hutters themselves from a few years ago:
Last Sunday Channel 4 showed the first episode of this year’s Shed of the Year competition, with the “Normal Sheds” and “Eco Sheds” categories. “Eco” included Cormac’s Bothy (follow the link for lots of photos) which is a handbuilt, round-log cabin in the Scottish Highlands. #shedoftheyear was trending on Twitter during and after the programme, with thousands of people posting tweets with that hashtag.
Twitter lets us get a sample of what the audience thought, and many of the comments about Cormac’s Bothy were what hutters might expect:
Others questioned whether the entrants were really sheds at all!
On Monday, Patrick Barkham’s Guardian story was getting retweeted with the #shedoftheyear hashtag too:
During the week the tweets have continued, with a mixture of people watching on catch-up, and other people using it to reach target audiences, whether that’s Cuprinol or Yale advertising their products, people proudly showing off their own sheds, or exhibitors at events like Woodfest Wales:
One of the features of this whole subject is the number of names there are for very similar types of buildings. Last week I visited the beach bungalows in Braystones (blog and pictures coming next week) and so added a fifth word to my growing list even if “bungalow” is more normally associated in Britain with conventional brick buildings.
“Hut” is the preferred term at Carbeth north of Glasgow, and is used by Reforesting Scotland’s “Thousand Huts” campaign and has a definition the Scottish planning policy:
Hut: A simple building used intermittently as recreational accommodation (ie. 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.
Not all huts (even at sites like Carbeth) meet those conditions, but you get the idea. “Hut” also gives us “hutting” and “hutters”, and connects to the Norwegian “hytte” tradition and on to the wider northern European practice of owning huts or summerhouses for overnight stays in the countryside or even on allotments.
Beach huts, which are concentrated on the southeast coasts of England although not exclusive to them, are also huts but mostly on the shed end of the spectrum, often with no windows and just double doors on the beach side. Sheds in gardens and allotments are a world in themselves, with sites like Readers’ Sheds organising annual competitions which are covered by Channel4.
Along with “hut”, the name “log cabin” is naturally associated with woodland structures due to the traditional way of constructing buildings from whole trunks or sections of them.
Despite the name and the differences, there’s still a common “hutting” thread. When I visit these sites, so many of the buildings have a look to them. Here I’ve picked out some of the pictures from my blogs, showing huts in East Yorkshire, Cheshire, Humberston, West Midlands, and Cumbria – spread over hundreds of miles but all clearly part of the same tradition. I could have included pictures from Carbeth to extend this a hundred miles further north too.
There’s been a lot in the news recently about Land Reform in Scotland, and many people involved in the hutting movement have been supporting this and connecting the two issues. In particular Donald McPhillimy wrote a blog post imagining sitting in a hut and reflecting on the impact of different types of landlord. It’s good that freehold land ownership has now come to the fore as it didn’t feel that was a particularly favoured model at the Hutter’s Rally last year. However, I think the real impediment is still planning law and practice, although at least in Scotland the planning policy recognises huts and requires councils to include them in their strategy “where appropriate”. Last year I roughed out some numbers about how to create a Carbeth style site, and I think they bear repeating in this context.
The Carbeth site is about 100 acres with about 140 huts, giving a density of about two thirds of an acre per hut. The actual plots assigned to each hut are smaller than this but the plots themselves are also well spaced which gives the site its semi-wooded character.
What are the costs involved if you wanted to create such a site from farmland? The Carbeth Hutters had to raise £1.75 million to the freehold of the site, but that was for land with planning permission for all those huts remember.
It’s easy to find agricultural land for sale online these days. For example, uklandandfarms.co.uk : scotland (change the sorting to “Low to High”) has bits of woodland and pasture starting for a few tens of thousands of pounds. Using one of these websites last year I found this field very near Carbeth, and so in the kind of location where we know a hutting community can thrive. That was 76 acres for about £125,000, which is a lot less than well over a million.
Let’s say we had created a hutters’ co-operative to buy that land, and then marked out 100 plots on it, to give a rather low density very like Carbeth with lots of space between plots. Everyone who became a member of the co-operative would get a plot. Half the available memberships would require a contribution of £125 per year over ten years; the other half require a one-off contribution of £2500 at the start. This means there would not even be a need for the co-op to take out a loan itself as the upfront payments would pay for the land purchase.
Add some rules to stop people reselling memberships in a way that drives up prices. Also some kind of common fund contribution: maybe £125/year, which the £2500 people don’t have to pay for the first ten years. This way after ten years everyone has paid the same in total, and there aren’t two classes of members. Some of the capital is used to put up huts owned by the co-operative available for £10/night to make the experience accessible and also so people can see if they really like it.
People would need to put up huts on their plots, but they could camp to start with while they did that. You can get log cabin kits for £2000-£4000 if people didn’t want to bodge together something themselves. But the co-op buying timber and fittings in bulk and then selling them at cost to members on site would be a great way of spreading the cost and letting people feel their way through the process of putting a hut up by trial and error.
We could do all that tomorrow in as many fields as there is the demand for huts if the planning environment was right.
In my view reform of property ownership is a worthy goal in itself. The option to buy rural land by local communities when it comes up for sale extended to tenant farmers would be a good thing, and not just in Scotland. The right of long-standing urban tenants to buy their own homes is also a worthy goal, as it is not good for people to be renting for any length of time and not getting equity in return: they’re just paying off someone else’s mortgage in most cases, whether the landlord is a private or public body, and they risk paying far more than the cost of the property if their family stays for decades. Long term renting is a con, rather like Currys selling maintenance contracts for £10 toasters.
But as I think the above links and example plan shows, all those issues about land and property reform don’t need to be resolved to restart hutting. Probably to do as much hutting as there is demand for it. It’s the planning environment which stops us doing it all over the place tomorrow.