The traditional British seaside 'is a place that no longer exists' says Lords report
PUBLISHED: 00:01 04 April 2019 | UPDATED: 11:51 04 April 2019
(C) Archant Norfolk 2013
There’s no silver bullet for struggling seaside resorts facing a raft of issues, a new report from the House of Lords has found.
A glut of cheap housing snapped up as guest houses fail, poor transport links, a lack of further and higher education, and a decline in tourism and core industries such as fishing have all contributed to a tide of neglect.
Many have an ageing population, with high levels of drug use and people claiming sickness and disability benefits putting local services under pressure.
The British seaside is a sort of “national embarrassment”, according to a 151-page dossier from the House of Lords select committee called The Future of Seaside Towns, published today.
Norfolk’s 90 miles of coast – one of the longest stretches in the UK – means a multitude of resorts all in different stages of evolution and with their own issues.
But their end-of-the-line locations – also part of their appeal – contributes to a geographical remoteness that is both their bane and their fortune.
In north Norfolk being on the coast is compounded by poor broadband connectivity, which puts new businesses off and makes it harder for existing ones.
The report concludes “inspiration” is the key as faded resorts struggle to redefine what they are – and makes 59 recommendations, urging towns to get their own houses in order before looking to tourism to bail them out.
Established in less complicated times for a holiday heyday that no longer exists, resorts such as Great Yarmouth can no longer rely on an annual influx of trippers keen to spend two weeks and their hard-earned cash on seaside entertainment and treats.
And whereas some resorts showed “new thinking and reinvention”, in others there was just “a litany of regret and a paucity of ambition”.
In some a focus on tourism may even have hindered regeneration efforts. So what’s a resort to do?
According to the report, a made-up town called Seaminster with all its “romance and grit” had got the balance right, kicking against “managed decline”.
The imaginary community realised trying to lure trippers back to a failing offer was not going to happen, and harnessed creativity and the talents of its high-achieving emigrants to reinvent the place with a range of festivals and events.
Elsewhere, in the real world, it highlights Margate’s Dreamland project – which saw Britain’s oldest pleasure park refurbished, only for it to fail and become a success again after a further £25m investment.
And Hastings has also tasted see-saw fortunes, with its Victorian Pier development hailed initially as a game-changer before it was sold after the charity behind it went into administration.
The report holds up Brighton and Hove as a beacon, and concludes the key to success is touted as shifting away from tourism and thinking about a town’s own local economy.
It says: “Seaside towns must be inspired to regain their pioneering spirit and evolve to meet present-day and future challenges.
“We are convinced they can reinvent themselves with a long-term, place-based vision grounded in each town’s unique assets.”
On the downside, it says young people are being let down and left behind by a lack of education and jobs, with raising skills and wage levels seen as key to job creation beyond tourism.
Improving digital connectivity was also seen as a priority, as was education – although the difficulty of recruiting and keeping teachers in areas seen as down-at-heel was highlighted.
Great Yarmouth Borough Council, speaking to the report’s authors, stressed the borough was not dependent on tourism with the energy sector and port business, as well as the third river crossing helping to boost the economy.
The chairman of the committee, Lord Bassam of Brighton, said: “For too long, seaside towns have been neglected. They suffer from issues rooted in the decline of their core industries, most notably domestic tourism, but also in fishing, shipbuilding and port activity, and from their location at the ‘end of the line’.
“A single solution to their economic and social challenges doesn’t exist.”
Community leaders have their say
Graham Plant, leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council said diversification and transport were key to the future with Yarmouth better off than other resorts because tourists were still coming in large numbers and people were still investing with £11m being ploughed by Richardsons into Hemsby, £3m on the Waterways, and a new Premier Inn on the seafront.
“Great Yarmouth is still a destination of the future but we need to translate that success into jobs and better standards of living for people,” he added.
Hilary Cox, North Norfolk District Council’s portfolio for leisure and culture said of the lack of fast broadband connections in the area: “It’s important that businesses who want to use that facility have it available to them.
“Also for walkers along the coastal trail and Weavers’ Way, it’s nice when they can access maps on their phones when they’re walking.
“It would be nice to have superfast broadband, if businesses want to start up here they know we don’t have it in the first place and they have to act accordingly.
“We are at the end of the line in terms of connections, but that can also be one of the assets of living and working remotely.”
Jonathan Newman, town centre manager in Great Yarmouth, said: “I think there will always be a place for sand and seaside holidays, 5m people come here every year for it, but for those people who don’t want that Great Yarmouth has a lot to offer.
“A lot of it is about being fashionable and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Yarmouth could be fashionable. All it needs is people to talk about a place with enthusiasm for other people to come and stay and invest.
“We have some unique architecture and assets like the Medieval town wall and a healthy number of museums that will appeal to people looking for culture and art on their trips.”
Dan Poitras, chairman of Lowestoft Vision, said: “For Lowestoft as a town centre, the biggest problems we face are parking charges and competition with the retail parks on the edge of town.
“Saying that, Lowestoft has some huge advantages on its side. We have the growth of renewable which should bring in more revenue that becomes available, and £15,000 is being spent on cleaning up the town. We’re looking to make Lowestoft a destination.
“I’m not sure it will ever return to former glories in terms of being a huge seaside attraction because there has been such a cultural change in this country, but we’ll do our best.”