The traditional beach hut embodies the indomitable spirit of the British holidaymaker. A refuge from that all-too-common driving rain and howling wind, in recent years it has become so much more than just a place to get warm and put the kettle on.
At the height of the housing boom, the best-placed huts were changing hands for hundreds of thousands of pounds, with middle-class families queuing up to get their slice of retro seaside action. This year, however, those who could not afford to buy their own place will have the chance to check into a "beach-hut resort", complete with its own bar, CCTV and a concierge.
The creators of what is claimed to be the first such resort, due to open this summer at Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, believe they have hit on a concept that will have strong appeal for the stay-at-home, bucket and spade market. Permission has been granted for 21 multi-coloured huts to be stationed along the town's Northern Promenade, close to its historic lighthouse. They might look like old-fashioned beach huts from the outside, but the company behind the £2m development is promising home comforts to compensate for the notoriously biting North Sea winds.
Guests, who will pay up to £400 a week at the height of the summer season, will of course be allowed to stay overnight (unlike most beach hut rentals, which require occupiers to leave by sunset). Each hut will sleep four and have its own kitchen, bathroom, shower room, hot and cold running water and even television reception. Double units will sleep six. The "resort" is to include an art gallery with bar, and a concierge for night-time security.
Darren Baker, a director of the company behind the project, Beach Hut Resorts, said there are plans for a further 300 huts in Whitley Bay, and 10 similar developments are in the pipeline at sites earmarked along the coasts of Yorkshire, Wales and Scotland. "We believe that as a concept there is nothing like it. It is quirky and very 'now'. People have a conception of it being a wooden hut, but really it is a timber-framed house built to modern specifications... People find the pound isn't going very far in Europe; we want to bring people to this beautiful area," said Mr Baker.
Whitley Bay may have seen better days. Its most celebrated attraction – the Spanish City where toreadors once thrilled Edwardian audiences – was demolished in the early Nineties, though the famous dome remains.
And locals complain the town has been locked in a spiral of decline for some years, with the closure of many of the larger shops. Some residents opposed the plans to build the new flat-pack housing units, claiming they could bring problems with noise and rubbish. However Northumbria Police backed the idea, saying that CCTV around the huts would reduce any risk of anti-social behaviour.
Supporters of the project say it will bring valuable regeneration money to the area and that holidaymakers will be able to enjoy some of the finest sandy beaches in the British Isles, with the popular surfing waves off Tynemouth about a mile to the south.