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The Highland Line: the year of the hut?

Could 2014 be the year of the hut? A visit to the website of "A Thousand Huts" the charity Reforesting Scotland's campaign to celebrate , protect expand and enjoy the world of hutting in Scotland suggests it may be.
 

Certainly all those who will attend the " Hutters' Gathering next month in Edinburgh will be hoping so.

And it is hard not to feel an instinctive support for their campaign, even if you have absolutely no intention of building a hut anywhere apart from your garden.

The website says of the Hutters' Gathering, "The event is open to all hut enthusiasts - whether you have your own hut, you're curious or you dream of having a hut some day. We're inviting everyone to join for an afternoon of inspiration looking to the future of the hutting movement in Scotland."

It continues, "Huts have an amazing potential to create affordable access to nature for families and individuals of all income brackets. We want to look at how the hutting movement in Scotland can be revived to improve peoples' quality of life. "

There are other reasons to think 2014 might be a good year for the hutters Reforesting Scotland is working with the Forestry Commission on a feasibility study for a possible pilot hutting site on Forestry Commission land as part of their community outreach work.

This year will also see the development of the campaign's partnership with Napier University, in relation to exploring Scottish timber and hut design.

But there is one big development the hut campaigners will be looking to this year.

That is to see whether the claim of huts is recognised in the Scottish Government's final Scottish Planning Policy which will be published in the summer.

The draft document that was out to public consultation last year, specifically recognised the hutters' claims
Paragraph 69 of this document concerns Development Plans in rural Scotland and the third bullet point said:
"Plans should set out a spatial strategy which makes provision for housing and other residential accommodation in the countryside, taking account of the development needs of communities and the demand for leisure accommodation, including huts for temporary recreational occupation."

The problem is that as things stand in planning law there is no class of building use which could apply to a simple bothy, hut or cabin, where people might sleep from time to time.

Andy Wightman, a leading authority on land ownership, has highlighted the issue.

He said: " Other than mobile homes, the buildings where planning and building regulations permit people to sleep are those classified as hotels, hostels, residential institutions and houses.

" One of the key aims of Reforesting Scotland's Thousand Huts Campaign is to change the Scottish planning laws to make it lawful to build huts and to spend nights in them."The organisers of the 'A Thousand Huts Campaign' worked hard to make sure that all who supported their aims made clear to the Scottish Government that there was widespread backing to recognise huts in planning law.

An impressive 785 responses to the consultation were specifically on the issue of huts - more than any other planning issue.

So 2014 could well be the year of the hut. When the final planning police is published it will be almost exactly three years since the Thousand Huts campaign was launched. to considerable public interest.

It highlighted how far we were lagging behind many of our European neighbours.

In Norway more than half the population have access to a hytte (hut) where they can escape and get closer to wildlife and the great outdoors.

Meanwhile one in: 12 Swedes; 18 Finns; 33 Danes can go to such rural bolthole, with similar traditions in Russia and the Czech Republic. And we all know about lakeside cabins in Canada and the northern states of the USA America.

But in Scotland a dozen years ago a study found there were just 700 holiday huts or DIY cabins, for a population of five million or one in over 7,000.

The history of hutting in Scotland was a associated with a working class movement in the 20th century when small holiday huts began to be built on land close main cities where folk would head for the weekend or their holidays. . The best known of these sites was at Carbeth in Stirlingshire.

Last year the Carbeth Hutters Community Company (CHCC) said: "We would like to see a framework which has the following characteristics. It is simple to understand. It is straightforward and easy to use.

It is fit for purpose - allowing the development of simple structures for informal use. It provides a basic set of minimum requirements but remains flexible. It responds to the informality inherent in hutting. It can be readily adopted within existing local authority planning policy. It can be introduced with minimum effort and cost."

But the first step would be for the Scottish Government to indicate they accept the desirability of extending hutting. However that would be very quickly followed by the vexed question on whose land they should be built.

Well ministers already own quite a lot of Scotland's land mass , about 10% by Forestry Commission Scotland alone and there is a lot in charitable ownership. The large land owners would probably not be falling over themselves to provide sites, but a lot can be done through the planning process. So that's why it is important that the hut, bothy, call it what you like, is finally recognised in law.

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