This report follows up a major inquiry by the House of Lords in 2018–19.
Seaside towns and communities remain places with significant potential, but they have still not been enabled to fully realise that potential. We are concerned about the persistent sense of disconnection that seaside communities feel and which has become widespread over recent years. Progress in supporting and investing in these areas has been too slow for too long.
The Government’s Levelling up agenda was not in place at the time of the original Committee inquiry. The aspiration to target areas in the most need aligns with the conclusions and recommendations in the 2019 report. We welcome this ambition and commend the positive work carried out by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in their ‘deep dive’ partnerships, soon to be rolled out in Levelling Up Partnerships across the country. Schemes such as the Partnerships, and others detailed throughout the report, must be reviewed and lessons learned applied to areas with similar challenges. We ask the Government to ensure that this is not a missed opportunity to address the challenges faced in seaside towns and communities which have long been left behind.
Throughout the evidence we received from local authorities we heard about the range of innovative projects being carried out in seaside towns to tackle local challenges, from the development of a Campus for Future Living in Mablethorpe, a future Multiversity in Blackpool and a new community supermarket in Jaywick. This demonstrates the desire from seaside towns to regenerate their areas and implement tailored solutions for their communities. However, we heard repeatedly that more support is needed, particularly better coordination and more suitable investment.
We believe it is necessary for the responsibility for seaside towns and communities to be allocated to a Levelling Up Ministerial portfolio. This will give these areas the recognition they need and add a necessary voice in discussions on levelling up. The Government needs to go further still and must develop a coastal communities strategy to tackle the long-standing disparities entrenched in seaside towns and communities. The strategy will ensure cross-departmental working to implement the necessary changes and encapsulate the range of issues highlighted in this report; transport and digital connectivity, education and health and wellbeing. All are areas where we have seen little progress in seaside towns and communities and persistent, endemic problems. Throughout both reports we have recognised the diversity across seaside towns, but agree with witnesses that these communities have more in common with each other than non-coastal areas: a strategy would be a valuable policy pathway to bring about effective change in coastal areas.
The Government has recognised the complexity of the current funding landscapes and the pitfalls involved in the bidding systems in place. The Government’s funding review must establish a clearer and more effectively targeted system. The review needs to acknowledge and address the need for long-term funding to address deep-rooted challenges faced in these areas and create sustainable change in seaside towns and communities.
The move to greater devolution poses an exciting opportunity to enable greater autonomy for local areas to address local concerns. However, this must be tempered with the need to address the distinct common challenges across local authority areas with coastal areas facing different issues to those inland. Coastal communities by virtue of their geography are on the periphery but they must not be left on the edge in terms of focus and priority by new devolved institutions.
The levelling up agenda and the future funding arrangements must better enable coastal areas to both tackle the challenges faced and take advantage of the opportunities presented. We believe our recommendations will help to advance the Government’s levelling up agenda and ensure it better supports seaside towns and communities.