SEA CHANGE FUND
55. DCMS recently announced a new £45 million
fund to support culture and arts in England's disadvantaged seaside
resorts. The announcement was made indirectly in response to a
Report by the Communities and Local Government Committee on coastal
towns. Under DCMS's
programme, which will be led by the Commission for Architecture
and the Built Environment (CABE), £15 million will be invested
each year from 2008 to 2011. It is proposed that the fund will
be spent on culture and heritage infrastructure projectssuch
as historic high streets and public spaces, galleries or concert
hallsthat will then stimulate wider improvements and economic
benefits in the area. Blackpool, Dover and Torbay will be the
main beneficiaries in 2008, with each likely to receive up to
56. While the UK's cities have experienced growth
in tourism numbers in recent years, the same cannot be said for
the traditional coastal resorts.
The British Resorts and Destinations Association (BRADA), a body
representing 60 local authorities, most of which are seaside resorts,
told us that, in general, the large seaside resorts are "struggling":
"the problem that seaside resorts have is that the structures
that were in place for a mass market in the 1950s have not been
able to change because they have not had access to the kinds of
resources that have been allocated to the inland towns".
A survey by English Heritage found that more than three quarters
of people believe that seaside resorts have become shabby and
57. The Committee heard first hand about the challenges
facing two beneficiaries of the fund, Blackpool and Torbay. In
recent years, the number of visitors to Blackpool has decreased
substantially. This has been accompanied by a decline in the average
length of stay and visitor expenditure.
Blackpool had been in the running as a potential site for a large-scale
regional casino, for which provision had been made under the Gambling
Act 2005; but Manchester was the site selected by the Casino Advisory
Panel. In any case, the Order to approve the Casino Advisory Panel's
proposals was defeated in the House of Lords, and the Government
has since decided not to proceed with a regional casino.
Despite this disappointment, Blackpool does have a strategy for
plans to create an "all-year-round, differentiated, quality
product in Blackpool" by improving the public realm and adding
value to its established attractions such as the pleasure beach,
the Tower and the Winter Gardens.
Blackpool Council told us that, in order to create a strong, viable
new product, resorts such as Blackpool require a greater level
of state intervention.
The Sea Change Fund, despite being a relatively small amount of
money given the number of coastal resorts, perhaps indicates that
the Government is beginning to accept this case.
58. During our visit to Torbay we were impressed
by the efforts that were being made to realise the considerable
tourism potential that the area possesses. Nonetheless, it was
evident that Torbay, like many traditional seaside resorts, faces
a number of challenges. For instance, the maintenance of the public
realm (e.g. toilets, gardens, illuminations) to the high standards
demanded by tourists incurs considerable extra costs for the Council.
Torbay is also attempting to reposition its tourism offer in order
to attract the higher end of the market. However, higher spending
visitors also have somewhat higher expectations on quality and
service, a gap it is still seeking to close.
59. We welcome the new fund to support England's
seaside resorts, many of which struggle to maintain visitor numbers.
It is essential that the funds are spent wisely, not just to maximise
the benefit to the resorts, but also to demonstrate to the Treasury
that such an investment is effective and worthwhile. There are
clearly limits to the difference £45 million over three years
can make to England's many seaside resorts. We recommend that
the Government evaluates the wider economic impact of the fund
to see whether the returns justify an increase in its size.