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Calls for more government funding in region's coastal towns

PUBLISHED: 00:01 04 April 2019

Hundreds flock to Felixstowe beach to take advantage of the hot weather - the town is working to make its tourist offer all year round Picture: GREGG BROWN

Hundreds flock to Felixstowe beach to take advantage of the hot weather - the town is working to make its tourist offer all year round Picture: GREGG BROWN

Archant

A new report has called on the government to support long-term projects to help regenerate the UK's seaside towns.

Felixstowe Forward Change Director, Helen Greengrass Picture: ARCHANTFelixstowe Forward Change Director, Helen Greengrass Picture: ARCHANT

The report from the House of Lords’ Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities looked at a number of different coastal towns up and down the UK, including those in our region, to see what could be done to help them flourish.

Why was the report commissioned?

The report describes resorts as having been “neglected for too long” and that it is time for them to be celebrated as they were during their heyday.

The House of Lords Select Committee visiting Clacton last July Picture: TENDRING DISTRICT COUNCILThe House of Lords Select Committee visiting Clacton last July Picture: TENDRING DISTRICT COUNCIL

What did it hope to achieve?

It hoped to make recommendations that would help struggling towns be set up on “a trajectory to regeneration” and bring back prosperity to the respective towns.

Old Felixstowe beach - one of the resort's many attractions Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNOld Felixstowe beach - one of the resort's many attractions Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

What did the report find?

The committee found that some seaside towns were better at dealing with the challenges of the 21st Century better than others. Whilst some were looking at reinventing themselves others struggled with what the report denotes as “a litany of regret and a paucity of ambition.”

Felixstowe's traders have high hopes for this year's tourist season Picture: GREGG BROWNFelixstowe's traders have high hopes for this year's tourist season Picture: GREGG BROWN

In some places, the authors note, both were found in the same place.

It also raised particular concerns about smaller coastal towns which deemed themselves to be the ‘end of the line’ and which felt “unloved” by the Government.

What is the situation in Suffolk and Essex?

Roger Abbott, chair of Felixstowe Chamber of Commerce Picture: PAT STOCKLEYRoger Abbott, chair of Felixstowe Chamber of Commerce Picture: PAT STOCKLEY

Helen Greengrass, Felixstowe Change Director at Felixstowe Forward acknowledged that coastal towns faced “quite unique challenges”.

“They are seasonal,” said Ms Greengrass, “One of the challenges is to extend the season and we are always looking for that winter offer.”

Ms Greengrass said that coastal towns also had to deal with the impact of weather conditions.

“We are always at the beck and call of the weather,” said Ms Greengrass.

“It was so hot last summer that our town centre footfall was down because everyone was on the beach.”

It was announced last month that Felixstowe had been awarded almost £1 million to regenerate the southern part of the resort from the Coastal Communities Fund (CCF).

Ms Greengrass said that such money was important to the town’s future and that previous impact studies had shown increases in visitor numbers.

“Felixstowe has benefitted from investment in the last 10 years and people are saying that they are rediscovering the town,” said Ms Greengrass.

Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District councils were also consulted for the report and called for more public grant funding for coastal towns.

They raised concerns around the bidding process for the CCF which they described as “oversubscribed” and “highly competitive”.

They said:“There is a great potential for regeneration in coastal areas, however in order to attract private investment there needs to be a tangible change, the coastal town needs to be seen to be uplifting itself before the private investment comes and this is where public grant funding is needed.

“There are significant assets on the seafront in public ownership which can create an uplift in the area but are not a viable investment for the private sector, however, once these assets have been regenerated the uplift begins.”

Chair of Felixstowe Chamber of Trade and Commerce, Roger Abbott, said that there was confidence in Felixstowe but that the high street was suffering similar problems to other local towns.

“It’s very important to get footfall back into the high street. We have got a good amount of independent shops and parking is easy.

He said the biggest problem the town faced was “bringing customers in our town to spend their money and competing with other towns”.

Mr Abbott said that Felixstowe one of its advantages was its diversity: “We have a varied offering we have tourism, industry as well and independent shops.”

The committee also highlighted the successes of investment in other parts of the county, highlighting Lowestoft as being a successful example of supporting investment.

The report notes the success of the ORBUS offshore energy innovation centre which supports offshore energy companies.

workspace for businesses and support to offshore

“Since its creation Orbis Energy has secured billions of pounds of investment and 800 new jobs in the East,” notes a comment from the Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group in the report.

“Many businesses have benefited from the company and it has acted as a spring board for many.”

The report also reflected on the state of north Essex’s coastal areas.

The committee paid a visit to Clacton and Jaywick last July to speak to local businesses and authorities.

A local representative of the Department for Work and Pension told the committee that there were problems with high unemployment in the area and that some groups had become “entrenched in worklessness” and were trapped in a perpetual cycle of receiving benefits.

The committee members also spoke to students at Clacton County High School about their views on the town.

The students said they were pleased with recent refurbishment work of the beaches but felt frustrated about “city tripper” tourists who came up from London.

They recognised that tourism was important to the town’s income but said that they didn’t feel like they benefitted from this money.

Tendring District Council also raised concerns about funding in the report.

“Local people, communities and businesses will play a key role in the regeneration of seaside towns.

“They are best placed to understand the issues and have the pride and shared vision to achieve something positive for their area.

“This Council is heavily engaged with local people, communities and businesses, but with more financial support from government this engagement could be more effective and more successful.”

Ewan Green, corporate director for regeneration and planning at Tendring District Council (TDC), welcomed the report for exploring key themes affecting seaside towns such as those in Tendring.

“The committee’s report picks up on a number of issues affecting towns in Tendring, and I am glad the Lords who visited Clacton last summer have taken on board the points we raised,” Mr Green said.

“One of the striking comments for me comes from the introduction, which talks about how pursuing the recommendations they put forward will support seaside towns develop positive futures. Looking through the themes raised I believe the Council – working with partners and communities, as this is not something we can approach alone – has already taken steps in many of these areas to achieve this including significant success in Clacton.

“This ranges from supporting and diversifying tourism, investing in events such as Clacton Airshow and Mayflower 400 celebrations in Harwich, creating a first-class beach offer through £36million investment and further £5m on cliff stabilisation in Holland-on-Sea, supporting significant private sector investment and addressing difficult issues such as anti-social behaviour and Houses of Multiple Occupation.

“This has been achieved through working positively with businesses, communities and other public sector partners such as police, health and education – for example, into University.

“The strength of this partnership approach has also been at the forefront of developing a Future High Streets Fund bid for Clacton town centre.

“Our hope is that this report will encourage government and national bodies to increase their strategic support and funding to benefit Tendring coastal communities and the specific challenges facing seaside towns.”

What were the report’s conclusions?

The report calls for seaside towns to “regain their pioneering spirit” to meet the challenges they face in the modern age.

It described the seaside as one of our greatest assets but added: “Regrettably, the British seaside has been perceived as a sort of national embarrassment.

“We forget the value of its assets at our peril.”

The report added that those living on the coast, more than 10% of the UK’s population, deserved “the same opportunities as those afforded elsewhere.”

It also calls for towns to reinvent themselves with longer term visions to tackle social issues.

The committee provided twelve different elements that it wanted to see addressed in order to make real its vision for the seaside.

1) Seaside should be a natural host for visitors

2) Hospitality sector should be transformed

3) Provision of high-quality housing in these areas

4) Raise educational standards and ambitions of young people

5) Teaching in coastal areas should be made an attractive career

6) Make further and higher education more attractive

7) Improvement to partnerships been education providers and local employers

8) Improving connectivity in terms of transport and technology

9) Increase in the cultural and creative economies in coastal areas

10) Need for mixed economies to support regeneration

11) Bring back the entrepreneurial spirit to seaside towns

12) Need for leadership to help with transformative change

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