It's time for a hut revolution, by Chris Brown

Regulation can impact the built environment in ways that are largely invisible. For example, most European countries, indeed western countries generally, have a tradition of dachas, baches, huts which are basic recreation accommodation in rural, wooded or coastal locations.

In England there are essentially none of these, bar some wonderful left overs of the Plotlands in places like Wrabness and the occasional joys of the live-in beach huts at Mudeford Spit near Christchurch. These homes are not permanent residences and many are off grid.

In Copenhagen, huts are used at weekends throughout the year, and extensively through the summer, allowing their users, many of whom have low incomes and live in apartments without outdoor space, to have access to private (but very social) green space. The huts are an extension of their homelife and are culturally important.

In Scotland, there is a planning policy definition of this kind of hut – a simple building used intermittently as recreational accommodation (i.e. not a principal residence) – which, since earlier this year, sits alongside more limited, and appropriate, building regulations.

This, alongside Reforesting Scotland’s six year long 1,000 huts campaign, looks likely to bring the Scandinavian experience to Scotland.

In Wales, there is a different approach with the One Planet policy to allow people to live permanently in a low environmental impact way if they can sustain their needs from the surrounding land. In each case the regulation responds to the cultural context.

In England, the cultural context is much more beach hut related and the regulation is complex. Huts that can be slept in have to conform to full building regulations.

Planning use classes don’t have a live in huts category and so, with the exception of a small number of far sighted coastal authorities, a hut is a house, a caravan or can't be slept in.

If the huts can be put on the back of a lorry, and there are enough of them in one place, then the mobile home regulations kick in and the different VAT, business rates and council tax rules add more complexity. The outcome is that innovation is stifled.

For small product market segments like this it can be hard for government to see the problem and so regulators find it difficult to understand what isn't happening because of their actions (or lack thereof) never mind what they should do about it.

The Scottish Government must be congratulated on responding effectively in a locally relevant way.

But across the UK there is a desperate need to have a system that allows new things to be tried.

Germany periodically designates specific areas and uses them to inform regulatory change but a more effective approach might be an innovation challenge.

Developers with innovative ideas that break the rules could be invited to put these forward on specific sites with government or local authorities able to approve on an experimental basis.

There will be failures but the successes will make them worthwhile. It's how progress happens.

Chris Brown is executive chairman of developer Igloo Regeneration


Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Sign up now
Already registered?
Sign in

Join the conversation with PlanningResource on social media

Follow Us:
Planning Jobs