The newly published Coastal Towns report from the Communities and Local Government Committee says there’s

a national policy vacuum on coastal towns and recommends the need for focused specific government action. Looking at the evidence and the report’s findings, the snapshot of the English coastal community is far from sunny, says Lesley Smeardon

represent an accurate image of the coast, depending on your geographical location. But look closer and you’ll find an altogether different view. Seasonality, isolation and a skewed demographic are as much a part of the modern mix of our seaside towns as anything served up by Rick Stein at his Padstow restaurant.

incompatible to other regeneration issues, placing restrictions on development in certain areas of beauty for example.

Seasonality and transience
Employment seasonality, given the reliance on tourism for many, is a significant challenge for coastal towns, a fact reflected in statistics provided by the Department for Work and Pensions which demonstrated that seasonal work in coastal towns was more than double that found in non-coastal towns.1 This seasonality is also one factor contributing to a more transient population, present in some coastal towns, which can generate difficulties in education, housing and employment.

The social and economic challenge for coastal towns
When it comes to their geography, coastal towns are unique. With a hinterland of 180 degrees rather than 360, they are, quite literally, at the end of the railway line or road system. Location, coupled with the increase risks of global warming, flooding and erosion mean coastal towns experience much of the downside to their seaside location. The undeniable attractiveness of coastal areas to tourism and leisure, while an economic benefit, can also be


pmarket seafood restaurants owned by celebrity chefs, million pound hideaway properties for the rich and famous and that most exclusive of coastal accessory, the privately-owned mooring for the much-loved yacht, provide coastal images evoked by many a glossy lifestyle magazine. All

Declining industry
Is UK coastal tourism in decline with the recent growth of low cost airlines? Figures might suggest so. Between 1980 and 2005 the numbers of visits to the UK seaside reduced by 10 million.2 The British Resorts and Destinations Association however argue that it is

The edge Spring 2007


the nature of tourism that has changed rather than a collapse per se with short breaks and day trips having greater impact.1 Whatever the case, there are a number of coastal towns that have suffered a downturn in their tourism trade. Perhaps it is the tourism product itself, that is in need some TLC, with specific of investment, especially in public areas. Some towns have found good fortune with the development of strong niche markets. Surfing is now synonymous with Newquay, for example, as Whitstable is to oysters and seafood.1 But coastal towns are not completely dependent on tourism even though other traditional industries such as fishing, manufacturing and shipbuilding have declined in many coastal towns. The report points to the need for economic diversification, arguing for regional and local regeneration strategies and development plans that encourage a broader mix of activity. This should be supported by Government sharing best practice on economic diversification approaches for coastal towns.1

for the older generation and this is reflected in the higher than average number of residents who are over 65 years old. The out-migration of young people from coastal towns and the inmigration of elderly people is a problem faced all over the coast. A greater transient population, run down disused housing, an older and, in some cases, increasing population, coupled with a second homes market in places, such as the South Hams in make housing issues Devon, particularly difficult for coastal towns.

A case for special measures?
The UK is a country surrounded by sea with a massive 12,500 km long coastline and an English coastline spanning 4,000 km. Yes, there is a national strategy regarding coastal erosion and flooding but we are still remarkably without a focused, strategic approach to deal with the social and economic issues of our coastal towns. Critics would argue that coastal towns are too diverse to warrant such an approach, and instead can be dealt with in existing regional, and national policy. Clearly, while a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach does not stack up, evidence given to the inquiry

makes a compelling case for special initiatives to tackle the needs of coastal towns. The report does not advocate a national strategy, instead favouring greater cross-departmental working, with a central working group led by the DCLT to promote greater understanding. A national approach to promote and support seaside tourism, is however advocated, urgently arguing for a new coastal study to be undertaken. Regionally, it is the RDAs’ role, it argues, to share best practice on coastal towns across regions, including economic diversification approaches, with RDAs disaggregating their coastal data in order to develop appropriate policy. Will the report create a turnabout for our coastal towns if embraced by Government? Joined up integrated government or merely another bureaucratic meltdown? We wait and see. What is clear to anyone who has visited an English coastal town in the past year is if we want our coastal towns to be vibrant, self-sustaining communities that attract and keep their population, we simply must invest in their regeneration. To do this, we must first understand the forces that shape our coastal life.

Coastal demographics
The coast has always been a favourite

Who’s responsible for coastal towns?
Coastal policy – The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) leads coastal policy with its responsibilities for flood and coastal erosion risk in England and also spatial planning system for sea and coast Tourism and heritage – The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has policy responsibility but there are many other regional and sub-regional structures for tourism according to the British Resorts and Destinations Association (BRADA). Housing, neighbourhood renewal – The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is charged with a range of policies and legislation that will affect coastal towns such as neighbourhoold renewal, The Housing Act 2004 and the local enterprise growth initiative. Regional Development Agencies – The Department for Trade and Industry. Demographics – The Department of Health in relation to the demographic profile of many coastal towns Education skills and attainment – The Department for Education and Skills Benefits system/employment – The Department for work and pensions The social and economic infrastructure on which our coastal towns depend, is influenced by a number of government departments. With no specific coastal towns initiative, and no recommendations put forward to develop one, cross-departmental liaison is vital. Yet Coastal Towns says such liaison is disappointing and argues for a permanent cross-departmental working group to be put in place, led by the DCLG to promote a greater understanding of the needs of coastal towns.


The edge Spring 2007

Say cheese – a snapshot around the country
East Riding of Yorkshire council has to deal with one of the fastest eroding coastlines in North West Europe with a rate of erosion on the unprotected stretches currently averaging 1.8 metres per annum3. According to the Environment Agency, coastal areas, such as the Humber, Happisburgh or the Essex coast would be in the frontline of climate change impacts. The Coastal Towns report recommends that Government, as a matter of urgency puts in place a fair and transparent national approach to coastal adaptation for those communities threatened.1

Coastal demographics
In Grange-over-Sands, over 50% of the 4,000 population is retired.12 The South West, according to the Market and Coastal Towns Association (MCTA) has the most eldery age structure of any English region, a fact attributed in part to its long coastline, with far more retired people centred in the coastal areas.13

In Skegness, for every two people aged 1824 who move out, three people aged 60 and over move in.4

East Riding of Yorkshire

Blackpool Skegness Happisburgh


Between August 2004 and January 2005 unemployment in Skegness, increased by 100% compared to almost no change in Great Britain.4


v Beirut

Torbay Looe


Only inner London has higher levels of transience than Blackpool, creating acute challenges for Blackpool’s local public services. Managing high movement patterns between housing, and yet creating community cohesion are just two issues towns like Blackpool are having to deal with.5 seaside resort and of local industry, bringing with it consequences to the housing and care industries.8

All references, unless stated otherwise, come from evidence submitted to the Communities and Local Government Committee, Coastal Town Inquiry. House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee. Coastal Towns Second Report. March 2007. The Stationery Office – find it at: clg.cfm 2 New Economics Foundation 3 East Riding of Yorkshire Council 4 Skegness Town Council 5 Blackpool Council 6 The Coastal Academy 7 Channel Corridor Partnership 8 Thanet District Council 9 Carradon District Council 10 Torbay line Rail Users group 11 The Learning and Skills council 12 Cumbria Tourist Board 13 Market and Coastal Towns Association 1

Looe, in Cornwall falls within the most deprived 30% of wards in England regarding employment.9 In Torbay, Devon, unemployment is high, with nearly half the employment in part-time jobs, twice the national average. And salaries are depressing, with the average adult male salary recorded as 65% of the national average in 2005.10 Southampton and Portsmouth, on a positive note, are both experiencing growth in their core port activities. Still, other maritime-related activities in these towns have experienced mixed fortunes.11

Coastal schools can suffer from low aspirations due to the lack of career and job opportunities and achieve lower than national attainment.6 In Folkestone, participation in higher education is in the bottom 25% nationally. 7

Thanet now has a large dependent community following its decline as a

The edge Spring 2007