Recently I was asked to be the keynote speaker for two different events focused on levelling-up; one in London, organised by think tank Localis, and the other in Margate, organised by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership. In Parliament, I Chair two all-party parliamentary groups (APPGs), the APPG for Coastal Communities and the APPG for South East England Councils. My focus for both these groups is to ensure that the South East and our coastal communities across the U.K. do not get overlooked by government (nor the private sector) when it comes to crucial funding and investment.
The pledge to level up the U.K. was the cornerstone of the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto, promising that this Government would unite the country, level up, and spread opportunity across the whole of the United Kingdom.
As one of only three regions of the country to be a net contributor to the Exchequer, investment in the South East must keep pace with economic development – it cannot be left behind. In Hastings and Rye, we suffer some of the worst levels of deprivation in the country and so we must ensure that these areas, and the South East as a whole, continue to receive the focus and investment they need in transport, education and skills, housing, health, green tech, and the Green Revolution. A strong social and economic South East has a hugely beneficial knock-on impact around the country - our region is a global gateway to the rest of the U.K. and rapidly driving economic growth to support the U.K.’s Global Agenda and boosting productivity here is essential.
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. Coastal communities such as Rye are important to the South East’s environmental, social, and economic well-being, and they have enormous potential - which can be unleashed with an ambitious vision, partnership working, and the right investment from both the public and private sectors. If given the appropriate social, economic, and environmental support and investment, our coastal communities would be an even greater resource not only to South East, but to the U.K. as a whole, rather than a problem to solve.
I have highlighted the importance of education and skills, both academic and technical, in a recent Rye News piece, and these are the bedrock of economic growth and social prosperity and must be something that we continue to focus on in Rye, particularly as regards green skills and technology for the future. Improving our transport and digital connectivity is also key to levelling up economic, social, employment and business outcomes and resilience. Affordable housing is a real issue in Rye, with many young people complaining to me that they cannot get on the housing ladder – nor find much to rent because of second home ownership and AirBnBs. Whilst the Government is rightly engaging in an ambitious policy to build good quality homes that people want to live in, these homes must be the right ones, in the right places, and with the right infrastructure. These issues are ones which I have highlighted with Ministers and called attention to as key policy area to resolve, and this is done through my Vice-Chairmanship of the newly constituted Backbench Policy Committee for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
What we do not hear much discussion on is around the potential for our coastal communities as regards land and sea nature-based solutions to climate change, which could also help drive social and economic betterment. Our coasts and seas contain some of the U.K.’s most varied ecosystems and investing in coastal restoration and adaptation projects offers opportunities for low-income coastal communities that yield financial returns on investments, create jobs, stimulate local economies, and regenerate and revitalise the health of ecosystems. Restoring and maintaining blue carbon habitats off our coastline would create jobs directly in conservation, and indirectly in nature-based tourism, helping to level up our coastal communities. Our coast is also at the forefront of the green industries, such as the U.K.’s world-leading offshore wind developments which we can see off the north Kent coastline and onshore at Little Cheyne Court Wind Farm near Camber. In order to campaign more forcefully in Westminster, I have recently set up an APPG for the Ocean and related solutions with the National Oceanography Centre, which will complement the work I am already doing on land nature-based solutions to climate change.
Rye, like many coastal communities, has unleashed potential which, with proper focus and investment, can help improve the lives of local people and generate both economic resilience and environmental sustainability. I will continue to campaign hard for the support we need.