Select Committee on Communities and Local Government Committee Second Report


CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

1.  Government has neglected the needs of coastal towns for too long. A greater understanding and appreciation is needed of the challenges faced in coastal towns. A national strategy for coastal towns is not a solution to their needs as a 'one size fits all approach' is inappropriate, but there are a number of areas that are in need specific Government action.

NATIONAL POLICY

2.  The Seaside Economy report states "Seaside towns are the least understood of Britain's 'problem' areas". We concur with this view and believe the Government does not sufficiently appreciate the needs of coastal towns . (Paragraph 104)

3.  The lack of cross-departmental liaison on coastal towns is disappointing, indicating that there is a national policy vacuum on coastal towns. Given the common characteristics shared by many coastal towns and the cross-cutting nature of the common issues facing them, cross-departmental joint working must be put in place. This would be facilitated by greater understanding and transparency over the situation of coastal towns. The Government should establish a permanent cross-departmental working group on coastal towns led by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Its role should include monitoring and promoting cross-departmental understanding of the needs of coastal towns, consideration of the effect of Government policy on coastal towns and overview of any national initiatives for coastal towns. (Paragraph 109)

4.  Our analysis of the evidence has demonstrated that coastal towns are diverse but that many coastal towns do share some common features, including deprivation. We are convinced that there is a need for greater Governmental understanding and appreciation of the needs of coastal towns. The variety of the challenges and opportunities that exist for coastal towns, however, make it difficult to conceive of a national strategy that would both an effective tool for delivery and sufficiently localised to reflect the diversity of conditions and needs in coastal towns and on this basis we are not recommending the adoption of a national strategy solely for coastal communities. (Paragraph 110)

VULNERABLE ADULTS AND CHILDREN

5.  There can be significant drawbacks from placing vulnerable adults and especially children in care away from their home area; we accept that there are times when it may be necessary in the best interests of the individual but it should not be done simply to reduce costs of the placing authority. Placing authorities should ensure that they communicate as far in advance as possible with host authorities about all aspects of the placement of vulnerable children and adults. Placing authorities should also consider the impact of placements on the receiving community and host authority, and they should take responsibility for the financial impact of those placements. (Paragraph 38)

COASTAL ECONOMIES

6.  We note that there has been employment growth in many coastal towns and that there is little significant difference between coastal and non-coastal towns in terms of overall average employment levels. We note, however, that a number of coastal towns do still have significantly lower than average employment levels. (Paragraph 47)

7.  It is unacceptable and extraordinary that the Government should have no knowledge of a potentially significant national trend in which coastal towns have experienced a disproportionately high rise in the number of people claiming sickness and disability benefit levels. It appears likely that the scale of inward migration of benefit claimants could be a contributory factor. We recommend that the Government investigates this trend with a view to identifying and addressing its causes. (Paragraph 53)

8.  Tourism continues to be an economically important sector for many coastal towns, and it is important that the Government recognises this. We recommend that the Government conducts an immediate study on coastal tourism, including evaluating the levels and spend of domestic and inbound visitors to the coast in comparison to non-coastal areas. We urge the Government to ensure that action is taken at a national level to promote visiting the English seaside, and to consider the merits of introducing a national coastal tourism strategy, following the example of Wales. (Paragraph 60)

9.  Some coastal towns have successfully diversified their economies and reduced their dependency upon tourism. Many others would benefit from similar developments, particularly given the seasonal, low-skill and low-wage nature of employment in tourism. Economic diversification should be taken into account in regional and local regeneration strategies and development plans. We recommend that the Government encourages the sharing of best practice on economic diversification approaches for coastal towns. (Paragraph 61)

10.  We find it surprising that the significance of seasonal work in coastal towns was not recognised by the Department of Work and Pensions, and only became apparent as a result of further investigation by the Committee. (Paragraph 64)

11.  The seasonality of the economy in coastal towns presents economic and social challenges that need to be considered by national and local policy-makers. The Department of Work and Pensions' failure to highlight the significance of seasonality in its original evidence is suggestive of a wider lack of understanding in Government of the specific employment patterns in many coastal towns and the challenges associated with those patterns. (Paragraph 67)

HOUSING

12.  The shortage of affordable housing is not unique to coastal towns but can be exacerbated by the high level of inward migration and the purchase of second homes. Greater provision of affordable homes is a key priority in many coastal towns and could be an important factor in retaining young people in the area. (Paragraph 40)

13.  It is clear that many coastal towns suffer disproportionately from poor-quality housing and in particular have high numbers of care homes and HMOs, many of which have been converted from redundant hotels. We recognise the availability of HMOs can attract a transient population into an area, which can bring particular challenges, particularly increasing the difficulty in gaining community involvement in local regeneration. (Paragraph 43)

14.  We welcome the provisions within the Housing Act 2004 enabling local authorities to license Houses in Multiple Occupation. We recommend that the Government encourages local authorities to make full and effective use of the licensing and statutory planning powers available (including compulsory purchase) to manage HMOs. We recommend that the Government examines whether local authorities need additional powers to address the problems arising in areas with especially large numbers of HMOs. (Paragraph 46)

COASTAL MANAGEMENT

15.  Some coastal communities face significant and increasing risks from coastal erosion and flooding. We welcome the Government's consideration of adaptation measures and the launch of pilot projects. We are concerned, however, that the pace of Government action is too slow to meet the needs of those coastal communities where coastal erosion is at its most aggressive and that delay can only increase social injustice and uncertainty for those communities. We recommend that the Government, as a matter of urgency, put in place a fair and transparent national approach to coastal adaptation for communities threatened by the consequences of climate change. (Paragraph 17)

16.  We welcome the use of Shoreline Management Plans which are a useful tool for managing development and coastal flooding and erosion risk. The Government should make Shoreline Management Plans statutory to strengthen their use in the planning process. This will ensure that adequate account is taken of coastal flooding and erosion risk. (Paragraph 19)

17.  We welcome the measures within the Planning Policy Statement 25 that give greater weight to consideration of flood risk in the planning process. (Paragraph 20)

18.  It is important that investment in sea defences is linked to the regeneration of coastal areas, and we welcome the steps now taken by the Environment Agency to ensure that the social and economic implications of sea defences works are considered at the outset and that the work contributes to the improvement of the public realm. We urge the Department for Communities and Local Government to work more closely with the Environment Agency and other bodies to ensure that opportunities for regeneration of coastal towns, afforded by investment in sea defences, are realised. (Paragraph 21)

19.  We agree with the Environment Agency that the information provided to those considering purchasing a property in a coastal area must draw attention to the risks arising from flooding and coastal erosion, and therefore welcome the Government's intention for coastal erosion risk maps to be available in the public domain in 2008 on a similar basis to existing flood risk maps. (Paragraph 22)

PHYSICAL ISOLATION

20.  The physical isolation of many coastal towns is often a significant barrier to economic growth, development and regeneration. (Paragraph 12)

DEMOGRAPHICS

21.  The inward migration of older people to coastal towns can bring benefits but it also places significant additional demands on public services, particularly in the areas of health and social care. (Paragraph 25)

22.  Many coastal towns have higher than average levels of outward migration of young people which can contribute to a skewed demographic profile. (Paragraph 39)

REGENERATION

23.  Differences of opinion over regeneration between different groups within the community can occur in any settlement. The demographic profile of many coastal towns, where a significant proportion of the community may have chosen to move to the area specifically because they like it the way it is, can exacerbate these tensions and represent a greater barrier to regeneration than may be experienced in some other areas. (Paragraph 79)

24.  While we recognise that there are particular challenges in coastal towns, there is no substantive evidence to demonstrate that they generally experience lower cost-benefit ratios or higher costs in regeneration projects than other areas. (Paragraph 81)

25.  Leaving responsibility for the sharing of best practice on coastal town regeneration with regions and sub-regions is not an adequate response, as coastal towns would benefit from the sharing of best practice and experiences at a national level. We welcome the recent events which have facilitated such exchanges but regret that these have been ad hoc. The Government has a role to play in supporting and encouraging coastal towns to share experiences and expertise. We recommend that the Government supports a permanent network to facilitate the spread of best practice in coastal town regeneration. (Paragraph 84)

FUNDING

26.  Given the number and complexity of the funding streams available for regeneration in coastal towns, there is considerable scope for their simplification and integration. We are not persuaded, however, that a specific funding stream for coastal town regeneration is warranted. We recommend that the Government evaluates the impact of the termination of various funding streams on coastal town regeneration, with a view to addressing any funding gap. (Paragraph 91)

27.  We agree with witnesses that it is important that the Revenue Support Grant calculations take into account the levels of elderly and transient populations in an area, and recognise the geographical variation in demands placed on services by these groups. (Paragraph 92)

28.  We agree with witnesses that Government funding to local authorities should reflect the impact of day visitors on the costs associated with maintaining the public realm in the formula for funding allocations. We suspect that witnesses are correct in their assertions that the funding formula methodology needs to be improved and recommend that the Government ensures that the data on day visitor numbers is both localised and up to date. (Paragraph 94)

EDUCATION

29.  The evidence suggests that a high number of young people in some coastal communities have low educational attainment levels and low aspirations. While we accept that raising educational achievement and career aspirations is an important element in local regeneration, we have no evidence to convince us that the experience of coastal communities in this regard is significantly different from other areas, such as inner cities or areas of deprivation, where the aspirations of young people and their level of educational attainment are lower than the national average. Any national initiatives to increase educational attainment levels in targeted geographical areas, should ensure that coastal communities with low attainment levels are included. (Paragraph 71)

FURTHER NATIONAL AND REGIONAL ACTION

30.  We note that RDAs have adopted a variety of approaches towards supporting coastal towns and that a number of these has been welcomed by local regeneration partners. We are not convinced that any mandatory requirement for RDAs to adopt a specific approach towards coastal towns would be beneficial. We do recommend, however, that one RDA (such as SEEDA, owing to its expertise) has lead responsibility for facilitating the sharing of best practice on coastal towns across regions, and that RDAs establish regional forums for coastal towns. (Paragraph 99)

31.  Given that the Government does not collate or analyse data on the investment levels and business growth in coastal towns it is difficult to see the basis for any confidence that coastal RDAs are effectively meeting the economic needs of the coastal towns in their respective regions. We note that currently RDAs disaggregate their output data on a rural/urban basis. We urge the Government to require RDAs to disaggregate their data in relation to coastal areas in their region. This would enable the Government to evaluate the effectiveness of RDAs in developing the economies of coastal towns within their regions. (Paragraph 101)

32.  Fragmentation within the tourism support sector is a national issue and not specific to coastal towns. Coastal towns, as well as other tourist areas, would benefit from a more coherent and streamlined national structure. (Paragraph 102)

33.  The Minister for Local Government stated that, in his view, further research on the impact of policy would help the Government to understand fully the needs of coastal towns and inform policy-making. We agree. (Paragraph 103)


 
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