Our seaside towns and resorts hold a special place in our history and culture. For decades, British seaside towns have attracted millions of visitors – both domestic and international – all wanting to experience life and leisure by the coast. But these towns, that were once such a significant part of our culture and society, and still can be, have been neglected and according to a recent report, are now among some of the most deprived areas in the UK.
Seaside towns face unique and complex challenges; high unemployment, poor quality housing and underdeveloped transport infrastructure – challenges that require a tailored response. But since 2010, the Tory-led government has abolished the Future Jobs Fund, the Sea Change Programme and the Coastal Change Pathfinder Scheme – leaving Britain’s seaside towns to fend for themselves. In response to the decline of our British seaside towns and resorts, Labour are launching Seaside Towns: What matters to coastal communities and economies, which details examples of how Labour Councils are rebuilding and reenergising seaside towns across the country.
In Parliament, we have been working across the Shadow Cabinet team to develop a strategy that addresses the problems faced by those in coastal communities. The challenges are wide-ranging and varied, but by taking a cross departmental approach and by working with our partners in local government and local communities, we plan to maximise the potential of our seaside towns through innovative and community-influenced means.
Tourism is the fifth largest industry in the UK, providing 9% of jobs and supporting 249,000 businesses. However, whilst tourism has been the staple industry in seaside towns, they can no longer rely on ‘buckets and spades tourism’ alone. Seaside towns are still in a prime position to benefit from the “staycation”, but there are many alternative ways to boost local economies that are now available. Tourism still has an important role to play in the success of our seaside towns, and improvements to marketing and transport infrastructure will help secure a bright future, but the need to diversify is greater than ever.
That is why our document is not focused on tourism alone, but on growth, entrepreneurialism and jobs too. There are numerous opportunities for economic regeneration in low carbon industries and creative business, which can be drivers for growth in local economies and providing jobs in communities. The Labour run Redcar and Cleveland Council has already enjoyed great success in this area, where the Palace Hub has created 60 jobs and is supporting 150 local businesses. If innovative opportunities like these are seized upon and supported, other common problems such as unemployment and underemployment, which have long been issues in coastal communities, can be tackled.
Culture can play an important role in reenergising coastal resorts too. The “Vital Spark” strategy – a scheme run by Labour-led Plymouth Council – has put cultural regeneration at the heart of the city’s economic development programme, stimulating sustainable growth in the region. This is just one example of how cooperation between local government, local business and organisations such as the Arts Council, can ensure that culture is a real force for regeneration.
Geographically, seaside resorts find themselves at the ‘end of the line’. As such, access to these locations is limited. In response, we want to see our seaside towns become more accessible. Schemes like the ‘Blackpool Bus Strategy’, which is the result of improvements to transport infrastructure in Blackpool, is just one of the ways in which Labour-led councils have been improving access to and within coastal communities.
Central to the need for greater connectivity is the need for universal broadband in coastal areas. High speed broadband is essential to any modern day business, yet the Government’s failure to meet its target on the roll out of broadband across the UK threatens to inhibit business potential in coastal communities.
Our seaside towns have an illustrious history, but in order to secure their future, the Government must act now; the success of our seaside towns should not be restricted to the past. Too little is being done to support coastal communities and as a result, this Government is failing our seaside towns. Seaside Towns: What matters to coastal communities and economies identifies what can be achieved if these unique locations are supported by the right policies. It is time to remove the dark clouds that have hung over our seaside towns for far too long and support them in building a bright, prosperous and sustainable future.
Dan Jarvis is MP for Barnsley Central and a Shadow DCMS Minister
This post first appeared on LabourList.