The Government has no specific policy or initiatives for coastal towns, based upon the premise that coastal towns are too diverse to warrant such an approach. The diversity of coastal towns is evident if you contrast an area such as Brighton, with its buoyant and diverse economy, with Margate, marked by its physical isolation and relative deprivation. Our analysis has identified that a 'one size fits all' approach to coastal towns would be inappropriate given this diversity, however, we believe there are specific areas where Government needs to act to ensure that coastal towns are not neglected.
Our analysis has identified a number of common characteristics shared by many coastal towns. These include: their physical isolation, deprivation levels, the inward migration of older people, the high levels of transience, the outward migration of young people, poor quality housing and the nature of the coastal economy. Excluding their physical location, none of these characteristics are unique to coastal towns. The combination of these characteristics, however, with the environmental challenges that coastal towns face, does lead to a conclusion that they are in need of focused, specific Government attention.
We were particularly struck by the demography of many coastal towns, where there is a combination of trends occurring, including the outward movement of young people and the inward migration of older people. One of the impacts of this phenomenon is that there tends to be a high proportion of elderly in coastal towns, many of whom have moved away from family support resulting in a significant financial burden on the local public sector in these areas.
During our visit to Margate, we learnt about the challenges public services faced in providing adequate support for vulnerable adults and children who had been placed in the area by other authorities. Witnesses suggested there was insufficient communication from placing authorities and stressed the difficulties that this caused. The Government needs to take action to reduce the number of out of area placements and to ensure that when children are placed out of their local area there is improved communication between authorities.
Housing in many coastal towns appears to be characterised by a dual economy, with high house prices, often fuelled by inward migration and second homes, alongside a large, low-quality private rented sector. A large proportion of the accommodation in the private rented sector is composed of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). Large numbers of HMOs can present difficulties for the regeneration of an area, as their poor physical condition can put off investors. Many people that live in HMOs often stay on a short-term basis, which can make it difficult to get resident support for local regeneration projects. Actions to reduce the volume and improve the quality of HMOs are therefore often necessary in areas where there are large numbers.
A number of coastal towns suffer from deprivation and their economic regeneration is of critical importance. Tourism continues to be an important industry in many areas, especially in traditional seaside resorts. The Government needs to adopt a national approach to promote and support seaside tourism. The economies of coastal towns can not, however, rely on tourism alone to be economically successful; and there is a role for economic diversification strategies to provide opportunities for local people to work in a range of industries.
The Government has conducted no research into the situation of coastal towns in recent years, nor did we receive any evidence demonstrating that there was any action or liaison between departments specifically on coastal towns. There is a need for Government departments to develop an understanding of the situation of coastal towns and work together to address the broad range of common challenges that these towns face.