26.Coastal areas are a significant part of the UK with residents of coastal areas making up over a fifth of England’s local authority areas. Many UK seaside towns were developed in the second half of the 19th century to serve an expanding domestic tourism market. Their long-term decline began in the 1970s, when foreign holidays became a more viable option for mass tourism. While some seaside towns have successfully reinvented themselves, others have suffered significant economic decline.
27.The economic and social deprivation of many seaside communities has been the topic of a series of reports and inquiries—as well as having been acknowledged by successive governments. In 2003, a report by Sheffield Hallam University stated that: “Seaside towns are the least understood of Britain’s ‘problem’ areas”. In 2007, the House of Commons Communities and Local Government (CLG) Select Committee agreed with that conclusion and emphasised that coastal towns have a number of common challenges that require “focused, specific Government attention.” A 2008 study by the Department for Communities and Local Government concluded that, taking account of a range of evidence, the principle English seaside towns are, on average, “rather more disadvantaged than the rest of the country, but not markedly so.” The report also noted that “seaside towns as a whole have a lower-than-average employment rate, an above average share of working age adults on benefits, lower average earnings and are more affected by seasonal unemployment than the rest of England.” Data from the 2011 census reinforced these conclusions, revealing that residents of coastal communities were less likely to be employed and more likely to have a long-term health problem than residents of other areas.
28.A 2017 report by the Social Market Foundation (SMF), which compared earnings, employment, health and education data in local authority areas, identified “pockets of significant deprivation” in seaside towns and a widening gap between coastal and non-coastal communities. The report suggested that in Great Britain, economic output (GVA) per capita was 23% lower in coastal communities, compared with non-coastal communities, in 1997. By 2015, that gap had widened to 26%.
29.Coastal towns score highly in the Government’s Indices of Deprivation. According to the Department for Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG) English Indices of Deprivation 2015, the most deprived neighbourhood in England was to the east of the Jaywick area of Clacton on Sea. This was also the most deprived neighbourhood according to the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2010. Five of the ten local authorities in Great Britain with the lowest average employee pay are in coastal communities—Torbay, North Devon, Gwynedd, Hastings and Torridge.
30.Although each seaside town has its own challenges, there are some common issues that often characterise coastal communities. Their economies, which were already predominantly reliant upon seasonal patterns of trade, have suffered from an ongoing loss of business which has reduced opportunities for entry level jobs, particularly for young people. As a result of this trend, the majority of seaside towns have been left with a legacy of semi-redundant accommodation and housing stock, a prevalence of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) and a distortion of local housing markets. The abundance of relatively cheap accommodation has encouraged population transience, particularly amongst vulnerable adults and children, placing additional pressures on local services.
31.We do not intend to rehearse here at length the data presented across a wide range of studies and statistical releases. The broad point to grasp is that despite numerous reports and inquires, which have identified a clear set of common challenges faced by seaside towns, and the introduction by supportive governments of specific coastal initiatives and funding programmes, recent studies have continued to tell a similar story. In summary, disadvantages have persisted and when considering a range of economic and social indicators (such as economic output, earnings and employment) many seaside towns continue to fall below the national average.
32.Despite the set of challenges faced by many seaside communities, seaside towns also present significant opportunities for renewal and redevelopment. There have been a host of regeneration projects undertaken across the country in recent years. There is also some evidence to suggest that coastal tourism has recently experienced some growth. The Coastal Communities Fund’s annual report (2016) noted that there has been a “significant turnaround” in the numbers of people taking ‘staycations’, with trips to the seaside increasing from around 18 million in 2010 to 23 million in 2014—an increase of over 25%. The apparent phenomenon of the ‘staycation’, coupled with a number of high profile regeneration projects, has led some commentators to suggest that seaside towns are already experiencing a ‘renaissance.’
33.Regeneration projects, however, have varied considerably, in both their approach and in degrees of success. Some notable examples include:
34.Although the strategies for regeneration vary from area to area, some common themes have emerged. A report by English Heritage in 2002, which analysed a series of regeneration projects in coastal communities across the country, highlighted what it perceived to be the key features of successful regeneration projects:
35.In 2007, the House of Commons Communities and Local Government (CLG) Select Committee published the findings of its inquiry into English coastal towns. It stated that there was a need for government departments to develop an understanding of the situation of coastal towns and to work collaboratively to address the broad range of common challenges that these towns faced.
36.The Government’s first response to the 2007 report was poorly received by the Committee, which felt it failed to recognise what it saw as its key recommendation: tailored, specific measures to support coastal communities. The Government issued a second response, accepting the following recommendations: the need for further research into the challenges facing coastal communities, including the disproportionately high levels of people claiming sickness and disability benefits in coastal towns compared to the national average; the establishment of a cross-departmental working group on issues affecting coastal towns; the establishment of a coastal areas network; and the provision of further information on seasonal employment in coastal areas.
37.It is not clear to us whether the acceptance of the recommendation—the need for further research into the challenges facing coastal communities, including the disproportionately high levels of people claiming sickness and disability benefits in coastal towns compared to the national average—has been delivered by the Government. We therefore invite the Government to update us on the status of its response to this recommendation.
38.Since 2007, the following interventions have been made:
39.We were appointed by the House on 17 May 2018 “to consider the regeneration of seaside towns and communities.” This followed a recommendation from the House of Lords Liaison Committee that such a Committee be established. In making its recommendation, the Liaison Committee suggested that the principal areas that an inquiry might cover included:
40.We have been led by the evidence we received. As such, some of the policy areas outlined above received more attention than others. Inevitably, given the breadth and complexity of the issues involved, and our reporting deadline of 31 March 2019, it has not been possible to go into great depth in all the policy areas that were flagged up with us in evidence. Instead, we have focused on those policy areas which seemed to be of principal concern. This report is therefore more of a landscape review, an exercise in cartography, rather than a granular analysis of every last piece of public policy which has an impact on seaside towns.
41.Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge that seaside towns are a complex and diverse urban typology—and we have therefore strived to avoid crudely lumping together all seaside towns into a homogeneous whole. Where they exist, we have sought to specify commonalities—but we cannot over-emphasise that, despite some common themes, every seaside town is unique; what works in one place may not work in another, and a crucial part of the policy picture in one location may be entirely absent somewhere else.
42.It is important to emphasise that in interpreting our brief, “to consider the regeneration of seaside towns and communities”, we have focused principally on resort towns, though some consideration is given to ports. We have done so, not because we are unaware of the challenges facing many coastal communities of all different typologies, but because, first, we had to make our task manageable, and, second, a focus on resort towns, where tourism has come under pressure from international competition, provided broad thematic coherence. We freely acknowledge that resort towns are just part of the picture of our coastline.
43.On 23 July 2018, we published our call for evidence, which is reprinted in Appendix 3. Over the course of our inquiry, we received 121 submissions of written evidence and heard from 51 witnesses in 21 oral evidence sessions. We are very grateful to all those who took the time to provide us with evidence. On 31 October 2018, we attended an event hosted by the Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group. We also undertook six visits and wish to thank all those people who gave up their time to host us. Our visits were a highlight of our inquiry and were crucial in aiding our understanding of the issues.
44.We would like to thank the Select Committees Engagement Team, based in the House of Commons, who accompanied us on our visits and raised the profile of our work with local seaside communities. They ensured that our work was informed by the views of people who live and work in seaside towns.
45.We are also grateful to our Specialist Adviser, Nick Ewbank, Director of Nick Ewbank Associates, a consultancy specialising in regeneration. His expertise greatly assisted our deliberations during the course of our inquiry, though we emphasise that the views contained in this report are our responsibility alone. Finally, we wish to record our thanks to the Committee’s secretariat.
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