Coastal communities like beautiful Hastings and Rye are integral to the U.K.’s environmental, social, and economic well-being. The pandemic profoundly impacted such communities, exposing and exacerbating social and economic structural challenges that need an urgent and coordinated response for a sustainable recovery. Coastal communities are also the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with erosion and flooding posing an ever-greater threat to both the built and natural environments.
There is no doubt that Hastings and Rye, along with other coastal communities, have major challenges to overcome, but they have so much potential to unleash if given an opportunity to do so. We have long been a proud maritime nation, historically relying on our coastal communities to help deliver national prosperity but, today, too many of them face shared challenges and disproportionately high levels of deprivation. If given the appropriate social, economic, and environmental support and investment, these communities can be an even greater resource to the U.K moving forwards.
Our coastal communities offer a plethora of nature-based opportunities to help combat climate change, which can also drive social and economic benefits. Our coasts and seas contain some of the UK’s most varied ecosystems and, if these are restored, maintained, and protected, they can help boost local economies by providing jobs, food, transportation, and leisure and health benefits, as well as protection against flooding. Our coasts are also at the forefront of the green industry jobs revolution, best exemplified by the U.K.’s world-leading offshore wind developments.
Whilst our coastal communities across the U.K. have unleashed nature-based potential for renewable energy industries and are combating the consequences of climate change, unfortunately far too many of them remain socially and economically deprived.
Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer(CMO), published his Annual Report on Health in Coastal Communities in 2021. The Report highlights that coastal areas have some of the worst health outcomes in England, with lower life expectancy and higher rates of many major diseases. The disparity in physical and mental health between coastal communities and their inland neighbours is deeply concerning. They have a commonality as to drivers of poor health which are not restricted to an often-older age demographic, and these drivers include deprivation, poor quality housing, alcohol and/or substance misuse, poor educational attainment, lack of connectivity with poor transport infrastructure, and a lack of diversity in jobs and local economies. Professor Whitty made a key recommendation, of a national strategy for coastal communities to address health and well-being, but I believe that such a strategy must look beyond health alone.
Tackling the underlying factors behind poor health, as well as focusing proportionate NHS and care resources to provide for health and social care needs will prevent ill health in the long-term, benefitting not just our communities on the coast but also the whole of the UK. The Government’s Levelling Up White Paper articulates how policy interventions will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country, including in coastal communities, but it does not specifically target them. In order that the Government’s spending, taxation, investment, and regeneration policies bring about meaningful change in our seaside and coastal communities, these have to be at the heart of the Government's levelling up plans, which is why I have called on the Prime Minister for a specific and targeted Government strategy.
To date, coastal regeneration funding has largely focused on heritage, recreational, and arts projects which are important, but it is clear that action is required to help generate higher wages and higher skilled jobs. As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Coastal Communities, I am petitioning the Government to look at a number of proposals in order to establish a framework - a national strategy for coastal communities - to help boost these communities across the United Kingdom. As many challenges faced by coastal communities are unique, I believe that such a specific strategy needs to be supported by a dedicated Minister for Coastal Communities, who can work across Government with the help of a specific taskforce – that is a cross-departmental working group for the coast.
Tourism, maritime, creative, sustainable fishing, food, renewable energy, and environmental economies in our coastal communities have the potential to be world leaders but need further support if they are to achieve this. These communities need specific recognition and investment from Government which will help secure the future of the coast, improve the livelihoods of millions of residents, and generate both economic resilience and environmental sustainability through greater connectivity, economic diversity, and by restoring pride in our coastal identity as an island nation. 2023 is the Year of the Coast, celebrating the diversity of our coast and communities. Let us make it a year to spring to action and ensure that coastal communities are at the heart of the Government’s levelling up plans.