The socio-ecological NGO, Reforesting Scotland launched a campaign in May 2011 to promote the protection and expansion of hutting in Scotland. The Thousand Huts campaign has achieved a considerable amount in a short space of time. Last week the new Scottish Planning Policy included provision for huts in the planning system for the first time. Last night, BBC Scotland 2014 carried a great wee film by David Millar followed by a studio discussion with the journalist Lesley Riddoch.
Sometimes life is sweet. People think good thoughts. Folk are inspired to imagine and drive forward a happier, more contented society where we live good lives in good places with economic and political democracy. A little bit of that dream came alive this week.
First of all, Liz Grey (pictured above) finally realised her life-long ambition to obtain this small 10ft x 13 ft wooden hut on Hopeman beach in Morayshire. There is phenomenal demand for them and a ten year waiting list. As Liz told the Scotsman,
“It’s an absolutely magical place. Everyone around here wants to have one.
“You’d be amazed at what you can get in them even though I’ve got one of the oldest huts on the beach so it’s one of the smallest.
“They all have their own character as they’re all painted differently. The one I’ve got has a Punch and Judy on it, while next door’s is painted in rainbow colours.
“There will be dolphins swimming past all day and in the evening you light up the fires, eat, and watch the sun go down. It’s absolutely fabulous.”
Last week also saw an important event in making such places more easily available to thousands of Scots who would like them.
Scottish planning policy is not most folk’s idea of fun but the quality of where we live, work and play depends on a robust land use planning system and and (equally as important) a robust and democratic system of making decisions about land allocation. One thing that the SNP Government has been good at is raising the profile of planning in Scotland. I don’t agree with all their policies but that is irrelevant for the moment. Planning now has a higher profile and that is good. This is reflected in the new National Planning Framework 3 and Scottish Planning Policy published by the Scottish Government.
But this is not a blog to discuss the weighty issues contained in these documents. I may do that later.
This is about huts.
Paragraph 69 of the Scottish Planning Policy concerns Development Plans in rural Scotland and the third bullet point is as follows.
69 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;
For the first time ever in the history of land use planning in Scotland there is a proposal that hutting be encouraged, facilitated, and expanded. A few weeks ago I was part of a delegation from Reforesting Scotland’s thousand huts campaign that met with the Scottish Government to discuss huts. Both officials and Ministers have been very supportive and what has appeared in the document this week is the culmination of a good deal of work over the past few months.
Of course the Scottish Planning Policy refers to planning policy. It is vital that if hutting is to expand and thrive that all local authorities have a policy on the topic. But there is more to do. For example, planning law does not even contain a class for “huts” and neither do the Building regulations. So, even with the most enlightened policy on hutting, it is next to impossible to actually apply for planning consent.
Which is why, earlier this year Bernard Planterose and myself were asked to prepare a paper (download copy here 3.2Mb pdf) outlining how planning law and building regulations might be reformed. This was presented to Ministers in January together with a technical annex.
None of this will happen if folk don’t respond to the consultation and let the Scottish Government know what a wonderful idea this is. Full details on how to respond are here. You have until 23 July but what about doing it now and certainly before the end of May?
Please also respond to the Allotments consultation. Allotments, suburban gardens, greenspace, huts, community forests and community farms should all be part of a continuum of civilised spaces for people and nature.
If you do, then not only can many more folk like Liz Grey get hold of a hut but Scotland could be transformed by providing all ages, classes and genders of town and city dwellers with a place to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of Scotland’s wonderful countryside.
Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Rootes Factory in Linwood that made the Hillman Imp. To accomodate the workforce, the small industrial village of Linwood was expanded and the first “Regional Shopping Centre” in Scotland was opened in the town centre.
Land in Linwood had been acquired for development in 1930 by the Parish Council of Kilbarchan. But with the new factory, a major expansion was required. So in 1965, land for the new Regional Shopping Centre was assembled by the County Council of Renfrew under the Linwood Compulsory Order 1965. In 1967 this land was leased by the County Council of the County of Renfrew to a company called City Wall Properties (Scotland) Ltd. for development as a shopping centre on a 125 year lease (expiring in 2092). For twenty years, Linwood, its residents and its shopping centre thrived.
Then, in 1981, the car plant closed its doors with the loss of 6000 direct jobs and a further 7000 in the wider economy. The community entered a period of catastrophic decline with families leaving and emigrating.
Bathgate no more, Linwood no more Methil no more, Irvine no more Bathgate no more, Linwood no more Methil no more, Irvine no more
Linwood was immortalised by the Proclaimers in Letter from America, their 1987 ballad of emigration and economic decline.
Mary Bowman, 63, moved to Linwood 40 years ago and watched as the town went from boom to bust.
“People just left,” she said. “They closed two primary schools because the population dwindled away. The town had 30 shops.
“We had a Woolworths, two bakers, a cafe, video shops, a supermarket as well as Clydesdale Electrical and an advice centre. The place was buzzing and you didn’t even need to leave Linwood for anything. There was even a Chinese and an Indian restaurant – places you could sit down in – not takeaways.
The town centre struggled on in the the midst of the economic ravages of the Thatcher years but somehow survived. By the end of the nineties, however, it was a mere shadow of its former self although the leaseholder, Ellison & Company from County Durham had attracted tenants for almost every unit in the centre.
And then a strange thing happened.
A new company, Balmore Properties Ltd. acquired the lease in 2001 for £1.7 million. In the six short years that followed, as the Scotsman reported in 2010,
“.. community leaders and retailers claimed that dozens of shops were closed as Balmore evicted tenants for minor misdemeanours and refused shopkeepers’ requests to have their leases extended. The precinct became blighted with derelict shops and graffiti-covered walls and plagued by antisocial behaviour from local gangs.”
The chemist and the optician opted to relocate to portacabins.
Balmore Properties Ltd. was incorporated in September 2000 and by 2006 was under the control of a sole Director, Dallas Peter Rhodes who owned the full paid-up capital of the company – 2 shares worth £1 each. By 2006, residents were fed up and the local MSP, Wendy Alexander, organised a petition to “Boot out Balmore”. A total of 3100 people signed the petition – full half of the town’s residents.
By early 2007, Alexander and the residents appeared to have succeeded. Tesco were interested in taking over the development and as a report in the Herald on 3 February 2007 noted with some surprise, when Nick Gellatly, Tesco’s Head of Corporate Affairs, visited the town the day before he was greeted with tumultuous applause by residents. He talked about putting a “new beat in the heart of Linwood” and building a new superstore together with a library, clinic and community centre. In July 2007, Tesco Stores Ltd. took over the lease from Balmore Properties at no cost “for certain good and onerous causes” – a transfer for no consideration where there is an unspecified obligation to do so. (Title here and plan here)
But nobody in Linwood was aware of that. Tesco had come to town and was rescuing their shopping centre from the blight of Balmore. Locals worked enthusiastically with Tesco to develop their plans. Some even appeared in their promotional videos.
Then in 2010, the folk of Linwood discovered the truth about what had been going on. Dallas Rhodes’ company Balmore Properties was not an independent retail property company.
It was set up as a front on behalf of Tesco.
Rhodes was approached by Tesco to acquire the lease on the company’s behalf. “It is common for Tesco to use and agent and secure land,” a spokesperson for Tesco said at the time. “Balmore was an agent for Tesco at that time.”
Some commercial property sources will happily claim that this is normal practice, that if owners get wind that a major supermarket chain is sniffing around, the value of the property will double or triple. Fair enough. But if that was the case, Tesco should have revealed its hand in 2001 or 2002. It didn’t. Instead the tenants were driven out and the community was left with a town centre that, later in 2011 would earn them the Carbuncle of the Year award.
Dallas Rhodes is and has been a Director of a number of other companies. One of them is Whitecastle Properties Ltd., a company wholly owned by Tesco Stores Ltd again with a paid up share capital of two £1 shares and with Tesco executives as Directors. Rhodes was a Director of this company from 2003 until 2008. The net assets of the company as at February 2012 came to a total of £236.
But unlike Balmore Properties Ltd. which never submitted any annual accounts because it enjoyed an exemption as a small company, Whitecastle does submit accounts and thus has to state its purpose. Its 2012 accounts admit that the Company’s principal purpose is “to act as an agent for Tesco”.
Tesco town is now well underway and developments can be followed at its website.
In the 50 years since the opening of the Hillman Imp plant, Linwood has enjoyed great hopes with the car industry, rapid and brutal decline and, finally, a takeover by a corporate retailer that dishonestly appeared as a knight in shining armour to rescue the townsfolk from their fate.
What Linwood has not had, until the establishment of the Linwood Community Development Trust, has been any proper understanding, control or influence over how their town is governed. The work of the Trust has been inspirational as highlighted by this short film made as part of Oxfam Scotland and the Scottish Wave of Change project.
It is no substitute, however, for the return of real political and economic power to people. And that is the challenge for all of Scotland’s towns.
Today the Scottish government has published a very welcome consultation paper (media release & consultation paper) on the future of allotments. The reform and modernisation of allotment legislation will form part of the forthcoming Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill and this consultation is the opportunity to get the allotment bit of that bill right.
It is significant that the media release is illustrated with a tiny little garden shed and a wheelbarrow – the essence of the spartan and utilitarian idea that was embodied in the Allotments (Scotland) Act 1892 (original version here) which provided the statutory basis for burghs to respond to any “demand for allotments for the labouring population in such burgh….” Section 2(1) This notion of a small plot of land for the labouring classes to grow food has hardly changed in over a century (and of course the ruling class had no need for such legislation being mostly in possession of ample land themselves).
Meanwhile, in the rest of Europe, things developed rather differently. Sure, there are allotments like we have, but there are also other arrangements which provide fuller opportunities for urban dwellers to enjoy life in the garden. Which is why I have included what I think is a fantastic aerial view of my own vision of what allotments could and should be like – a far cry from the pokey patches of ground that allotments consist of today. Please do click on the image to see a larger version.
This is an example of the German Schrebergarten – suburban gardens which can be lived in over the summer and which provide a wonderful refuge for German families. See a previous blog for further discussion on the benefits this creates for children and families including a wonderful video.
My vision of the future is of land around our towns and cities devoted to food-growing, suburban gardens and forests – something like Frankfurt – and further out on the continuum, huts….
Of which more soon.
Meanwhile do respond to the consultation which is open until 24 May 2013.
UPDATE 21 APRIL 2013
The Scottish Government is holding 3 “engagement” events to allow members of the public to discuss the allotments consultation and how it fits into the wider work being taken forward by the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill.
Friday 3rd May Great Glen House, Leachkin Road, INVERNESS at 1100hrs – 1300hrs
Tuesday 7 May Atlantic Quay, 150 Broomielaw, GLASGOW 1400hrs – 1600hrs
Thursday 16 May Saughton House, Broomhouse Drive EDINBURGH 1400hrs – 1600hrs
Lesley Riddoch and I enjoyed a packed session at the Nordic Horizons meeting on huts at the Festival of Politics this morning and the talk turned to how huts can be part of a revolution. Something of what this could entail is illustrated by watching this short film about two young boys spending time in their allotments and summer house.
(I am sorry – I can’t embed Flash video in WordPress.)
As close attention to the film will reveal and because Germany allows such urban hutting, children can grow up learning (with no need to be taught by a schoolteacher) about solar energy, growing their own food, rearing animals, building relationships with others, having substantial autonomy, expectations of equality and access to land and many other vital skills.
I am left wondering whether in fact whether such an upbringing contributes to Germany’s economic success. If girls and boys spend their childhood helping to build, maintain, manage and enjoy a small parcel of land upon which a community lives, they learn about empowerment, initiative, creativity, practical skills, relationships and so much more. A fascinating history of the schrebergarden movement can be found here including its legal basis in the land reforms following the 1918 revolution. There are over 1 million schrebergardens in Germany – four times the number of allotments in the whole of the UK (where if you dare to spend the night in your toolshed you could be evicted.)
Meanwhile the most that many of Scotland’s schoolchildren can expect is to get to go and visit a big estate or farm owned by an aristocratic landowner and be shown big tractors and and some animals.
The issues raised are very relevant to two Scottish Government initiatives at the moment. The first is he Land Reform Review Group (which has yet to publish its remit and about which little can sensibly be said until this is done). The second is the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill consultation which specifically raises the future of allotment law and might yet be a vehicle for legalising the expansion of hutting.
UPDATE 19 August.
Daye Tucker, a Director of Scottish Land and Estates finds my dismissal of how we link children to the land “loaded and toxically inaccurate” and “rather insulting”. I admit it is a bit flippant but it is designed to point up a deeper truth in the comparison between Germany and Scotland. Give kids 2 months spent on a schrebergarden and they will learn a lot more about growing food that a Royal Highland Educational Trust visit to a school. Rather to prove my point here is a report about the Dumfries and Galloway branch of the RHET who seem to think that taking big tractors into playgrounds is going to teach children anything. Note that this is a German tractor which was almost certainly assembled by workers who had grown up on a schrebergarden. Oh, and just have a listen to Andrew Dunlop in the film clip.
UPDATE 29 August
The story would not be complete without revealing what those schoolchildren above are actually looking at. Whilst some of the boys at the back are admiring the big green tractor, the rest are looking quizically at ….. a plastic cow (photo taken at a different stop on the same tour).