There are few more quintessentially English postcard images than deckchairs lining a sandy beach with a pier in the background. I am lucky that in my constituency there are many fantastic coastal towns that attract thousands of visitors on holiday. But for years now they have been faced with a real and growing set of problems.
There are of course special challenges for coastal communities; the nature of seasonal employment; being at the end of transport networks; poor quality housing often with a higher than average number of people living in bedsits and the threat of flooding. Meanwhile pressures on services, caused by a much older than average population coupled with austerity are just some of the harsher realities of seaside living.
After being let down by underinvestment from successive governments, a lack of hope for real change mixed with the current strand of anti-establishment politics, resulted in a strong vote to leave the European Union in many seaside towns. In my region, Waveney recorded a 63% Leave vote, Great Yarmouth 72% and Castle Point 73%.
Paradoxically, and indeed sadly, figures also show that seaside areas were large net recipients of EU funding including for the regeneration of Southend’s seafront, investment in the creative industries through organisations like Great Yarmouth’s SeaChange Arts and the Orbis Centre in Lowestoft, which has been instrumental in harnessing the opportunities of offshore wind.
European funding was rightly forward facing, using the skills of the local population and re-skilling, looking at the green jobs of the future, and moving away from the high volume day-tripper market to the under-tapped ‘staycation’ market, with more focus on visiting the natural heritage along the coast over penny machines, cheap beer and neon lights.
It is heartening that the Labour Party is currently undergoing a “Coastal Consultation” especially as is not so long ago that Labour MPs represented areas such as Clacton, Scarborough and Weymouth, and we can do so again. With Brexit on the horizon, it is now more important than ever that our party again builds an attractive offer for seaside towns, as it will fall to Labour to push a new postcard image of our seaside, where communities thrive as they look to the future.
Alex Mayer is the MEP for the East of England