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March 23, 2016

Community hyttes

Half the population of Norway have regular access to a place in the rural hinterland – a hytte – where they can commune with nature. One can only speculate on the impact of such activity on the health of the nation.  A recent relaxation of the planning rules will make it much easier for huts to be established across Scotland although access and affordability of land will be a constant issue.  And that very constraint might encourage communities to build their own huts for everyone to use. A national network of communal hyttes perhaps?

David Ross, The Herald

For generations people in towns and cities across Europe, about now would be starting to think about heading to their cabins out in the woods or countryside.

They would leave their daily lives behind, so they could open their wooden doors to nature each morning, and be the better refreshed for it. They have few Scottish counterparts today, although between the world wars many working people escaped Scottish cities and built their own huts in the countryside.

It has been estimated that one in 12 Swedes, one in 18 Finns and one in 33 Danes can claim a rural bolthole.Meanwhile more than half the Norwegian population has access to such a rural hut or a ‘hytte’.

However the last major survey 16 years ago found Scotland, with a slightly larger population, had fewer than 700 holiday huts or DIY cabins left, most famously those at Carbeth near the Campsie Fells. But things are about to change.

The campaign to give the public greater freedom to erect huts in rural areas with a target of 1,000, has made significant progress.

The idea of a hut has been written into Scottish planning policy, and those behind Reforesting Scotland’s ‘Thousand Huts’ campaign last month launched a new huts planning guide at Holyrood last month, with Richard Lochhead Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment in attendance. He said he very much welcomed the publication of the guide “which I hope will provide an important opportunity for many more people in Scotland to enjoy the recreational benefits associated with huts and hutting.”

But as yet there is still no official route by which to build such structures. Further changes have to be made.

Currently, if you want permission to build a simple hut with sleeping accommodation you have to comply with the same building regulations as for building a house.

The Scottish Government has proposed an amendment which would make hut building simpler and more affordable by exempting huts from most building regulations. The responses to the consultation on this move, have just been published showing considerable support. This has been welcomed by Karen Grant, of Reforesting Scotland’s Thousand Huts campaign.

She said: “It’s very encouraging to see that across Scotland’s local authorities, the responses to the Scottish Government’s proposals to exempt huts from building regulations are overwhelmingly positive. The consultation responses also show endorsement of the proposals by major organisations such as the National Trust for Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. We’re optimistic that this broad support from key stakeholders will help move us towards a regulatory framework for huts which is appropriately light-touch for these simple, low-impact buildings.”

However there are still issues to be resolved. Not least whether a “raised floor or platform” should be allowed for sleeping. This is still under discussion.

Bernard Planterose raised it in his submission. He runs a business North Woods Construction Ltd in Wester Ross which makes huts and cabins, having lived in such informal structures on and off for 20 years.

He said “The building standards people are just trying to protect the public from danger which is, after all, their statutory function and this is commendable. However perhaps they are being a bit too careful when it comes to sleeping platforms.They are common in the whole hutting and bothy tradition.

“I am a veteran cabin user and I try to to help others realise their hutting dreams. The most important thing about huts is that they allow people to stay out in the wilds, almost under the stars, in safety if not comfort. A hut is a modest bolthole rather than a second home and can play a positive role in connecting people with the natural environment ”  

He said that he was pleased with the attitude of the Scottish Government and officials: “They are working as hard as they can to ensure that building standards catch up with the changes to planning policy accommodating huts. But we still have a wee bit to go.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The consultation responses will be analysed over the coming weeks to identify if there should be any adjustments to the emerging policy. It will be for the in-coming government to then establish the next steps for the policy.”