Thank you, Professor Argawal, for your kind introduction and it is a pleasure to speak under your Chairship.
And good morning to everyone attending virtually today - thank you for asking me to speak to you about National Strategies for Coastal Regeneration post-Covid-19.
Recently I became Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Coastal Communities, which I was delighted to do as my constituency is the beautiful coastal communities of Hastings and Rye in East Sussex – the Sunshine Coast!
Our coastal communities across England are some of the most beautiful, but unfortunately some of the most deprived in the UK.
Hospitality and tourism is particularly important in coastal communities, many of which have seen the decline of their once traditional industries. Tourism and the visitor economy is the fourth largest industry employing 4.6 million people in the UK, and produces 10% of the UK’s GDP equivalent to £143 billion Gross Value Added.
Pre-Covid, hospitality and tourism was a key part of job creation and since 2010 has been responsible for creating 17% of new jobs. Seaside and coastal communities have long been overlooked – left rather neglected – but have much to offer, as we have seen over the past few months where the UK population has re-discovered our coastal towns, villages and beaches. We could argue that the Government should be putting the UK’s seaside economy at the forefront of the government agenda for regional growth.
Covid-19 has impacted on us all, but it has particularly hit coastal communities hard, mainly because much of local coastal economies are dependent on tourism and hospitality sector.
The virus itself has had an impact on communities and within organisations as a health emergency - so many people losing loved ones, the symptoms of Covid and long-Covid symptoms, the impact on work life. We have also seen that the necessary actions to manage the transmission of the virus, rather than the virus itself, has had and continues to have deep consequences for our communities; a collective anxiety, economic insecurity, disruption to lives, education, training and work, the impacts on the economy and long- term closures of certain sectors, and the consequences to mental health and wellbeing.
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, produced his annual report this year on health disparities in coastal communities.
Covid-19 has reinforced the importance of local variations in health, and the concentration of pre-existing health conditions and chronic disease in certain geographies.
The disparity in physical and mental health between coastal communities and their inland cousins is very concerning. They have a commonality as to drivers of poor health which are not restricted to an often, older age group demographic. These common drivers include deprivation, housing, alcohol and/or substance misuse, education – particularly poor secondary school attainment, transport infrastructure and lack of connectivity – including digital - and lack of diversity in jobs and local economies.
I welcome the recommendations of the CMO’s Annual Report on Health in Coastal Communities, not only as chair of the APPG for Coastal Communities, but as MP for the beautiful coastal constituency of Hastings and Rye. A key recommendation, of a national strategy for coastal communities to address health and well-being is key but must look beyond health. Tackling the underlying drivers of poor health, as well as focusing proportionate NHS and care resources to appropriately provide for health and social care needs will prevent ill health in the long-term, benefitting not just our coastal communities but also the whole of the UK, both socially and economically. High levels of deprivation, driven in part by major and longstanding challenges with local economies and employment, are important reasons for the poor health outcomes in coastal communities. The ONS, in their analysis for the CMO’s report, found that deprivation was higher in coastal communities compared to non-coastal, with smaller seaside towns and large coastal (non-seaside) towns being especially deprived.
Tackling deprivation is key, which brings me on to the Government’s levelling up agenda which is at the heart of the UK’s recovery from Covid – and it is very much needed for our coastal communities. I recently highlighted the CMO’s report with colleagues in the new Levelling Up Department because, although the report is about health it points to the underlying factors which need to be addressed, all of which contribute to levelling up.
The Levelling Up White Paper will articulate how policy interventions will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country. The White Paper will focus on the challenges including living standards, growing the private sector and increasing and spreading opportunity. We need to make sure that the Government’s spending, taxation, investment and regeneration policies bring about meaningful change – especially in our seaside and coastal communities.
I am therefore very keen to see coastal communities included specifically in the Levelling Up White Paper, due to be published later this year.
It is more important than ever that areas that have struggled are given the helping-hand they may need to fulfil their economic and social potential in the years ahead. There has been funding available, such as the £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund which will help towards unleashing the potential of some of our coastal communities, by focusing on supporting infrastructure investment in places where it can make the biggest difference to the lives of local residents. This Fund is being prioritised for different areas around the country, and I warmly welcome the fact that, for example, both Hastings Borough and Rother District Councils - coastal communities - have been given ‘Priority One’ status. The Councils in these areas have received £125,000 each which will enable them to assess the feasibility of local levelling up projects which will help turbo-charge our local economies.
We have seen the Towns Deal Fund, again I am using Hastings to illustrate this potential, which received £24.3 million of funding which should lever a further £85 million in private investment – which is key - for various regeneration, public realm and green skills-based training - investment in people, skills, housing, job creation and buildings. Public seed funding will attract private investment; it shows how much confidence local communities have in their regeneration projects.
Coastal communities have seen funding pots over the years such as the Coastal Revival Fund and the Coastal Communities Fund which aim was to encourage the economic development of UK coastal communities by giving funding to create sustainable economic growth and jobs. The Levelling Up Fund and the Community Renewal Fund essentially will now replace the Coastal Communities Fund. We also have the £150 million Community Ownership Fund. All these funds are to help ensure that communities, including coastal communities, across the UK are prepared for the introduction of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
The UK Shared Prosperity Fund replaces EU Structural Funds will be launched in 2022 and aims to reduce inequalities between communities. Bearing in mind that coastal communities are more deprived and have greater health, education, transport infrastructure and other disparities than their inland neighbours, it is vital that a national strategy for coastal areas is developed.
Transport infrastructure and education are essential in driving regeneration. The Government’s intention to invest record amounts to build the railways, roads, communications including telecom infrastructure and broadband of the future is really crucial for improved connectivity. Coastal communities more often than not have poor transport and connectivity.
Connectivity includes broadband and I welcome the Government’s drive to roll out gigabit broadband, particularly the voucher scheme in harder to reach rural areas.
Educational attainment in coastal areas is often below national average and whilst I welcome the funding boost of £14 billion in our primary and secondary schools over the next three years, I would like to see more of the Opportunity Area Funding, which supports social mobility in some of the most disadvantaged areas, extend longer and to more ‘left behind’ coastal areas. Hastings school children and teachers have hugely benefitted from this targeted funding for the past five years.
Good educational standards and a local population with a good skill set, coupled with a good transport infrastructure platform will encourage existing business to grow and new businesses to locate to a place.
Jobs are key and we have seen a real focus by the Government in skills training and re-training. Launching a Lifetime Skills Guarantee will enable people to get the skills they need at every stage of their life meaning they can re-train and find new, well paid jobs to Build Back Better.
Much of Government recent policy and measures are to enable local people to determine the future of our communities as we seek to Build Back Better.
I attended the launch last week of ‘No Place Left Behind: the Commission into Prosperity and Community Placemaking Report’. The Report seeks to identify and develop policy and practice that enables regenerative development in ‘left behind places’. It aims to ensure that the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda is deliverable and meaningful for those who live and work in these places. One of the issues highlighted really resonated with me, as an MP for two coastal towns, Hastings and Rye and rural coastal villages, such as Camber and Winchelsea Beach; that town and neighbourhood centres matter. They are vital for prosperous community life and the identity of place. Many town centres have been hit hard by economic change, the decline of retail and the impacts of Covid.
The future of the traditional high street is tenuous and so it must reinvent itself or face decline. The Report highlights that left behind towns need the tools to remake the high street. As to how, the Report looks at interventions aimed at reinventing town centres to be thriving hubs of community, cultural and commercial life. We have seen the recent Government Future High Streets Fund and High Streets Welcome Back Fund but it is clear that other measures, such as Tourism Improvement Districts or Community Improvement Districts can be utilised. The Report calls for urgent support for the independent businesses that give places their distinctive character; a revolving asset fund to transition vacant commercial property into beneficial uses quickly, and smarter planning policies aimed at diversifying high streets.
To finish, I believe that a national strategy is required for seaside and coastal communities not restricted to health disparities, but which also seeks to improve the economic health and outcomes of our coastal towns and villages. We are an island nation, so this is hugely important. We need to have more granular data, obtained from research, for seaside and coastal communities so that well-informed strategies can be targeted to where support and investment is needed most.
People living in coastal areas should have similar opportunities in education, housing, employment and health to unleash their potential and that of our seaside and coastal communities.