My Lords, it is a privilege to present this report to your Lordships’ House. I have greatly enjoyed chairing the Lords’ seaside regeneration Select Committee. It is not often in politics that you get to report on something close to your heart, with a primary purpose of wanting simply to contribute to improving the lives of people and places. Noble Lords who know me will know that I went to school in Clacton, a town famous only for being invaded by mods and rockers in the 1960s and having a pop festival nearby at Weeley in 1971. I moved from that seaside resort to Brighton, a major seaside resort, and was then confronted with the observation by Keith Waterhouse that I lived in a place that was probably best known for helping the police with their inquiries.
On the report, I want to start with a few thank-yous. I give my thanks to the Lords’ team who supported me throughout the year, including the clerks: Matt Smith, Chris Clarke and Beth Hooper, ably backed up by Robert Cocks. I also thank Dervish Mertcan, who did our communications, and the Lords outreach team. I give special thanks for the work and thought put in by our special adviser, Nick Ewbank, and thanks too to the committee’s members, most of whom are here this evening. They gave generously of their time. Of course, I also thank the local authorities and public bodies which made all our visits possible and hugely interesting. Finally, I give a big thank you to the people who welcomed us to their communities, provided us with the evidence and ideas, and gave witness to the issues facing the seaside and our coastal communities.
The report stands as more than a wake-up call to those involved in government, locally and nationally. Why is that? It is because it needs to. More than a decade ago, a Commons committee pointed up the problems and issues facing coastal communities and, while some measures seem to have been put in place, much of what was said and recognised as issues has been ignored. During the intervening period, with a few notable exceptions—Brighton, Bournemouth and, yes, Blackpool—many of our seaside towns and communities have gone backwards, when they ought to have been moving forwards. If action is not taken soon to reverse the decline of many of the communities the report covers, the problems associated with them will become intractable and irreversible. The resentments that have led to a sense of these communities feeling left out and left behind in our nation’s story will become permanent.
We can either move towards “Seaminster”, our mythically reinvented, regenerated place, or move into only a spiral of decline, disconnection and community failure by the sea. Given our innate love of the seaside, which all in the UK share and generally celebrate, that would seem a major failure of public policy and a waste of a precious, protective, glorious national asset—our coastline. I take it as a given that we have not all fallen out of love with the British seaside and so did our Lords committee. We discovered that sense of place on our visits, and a passion within the communities we travelled to. The report is all about finding a renewed sense of purpose for the seaside and a route map. None of this comes without a cost but, with leadership and a vision for the future, we believe that the UK seaside can be transformed and be a place for dreaming and fun, and a place to be—as both home and host.
So what did we find? Our report was addressed over a year; we came to our conclusions just after Christmas, and published in April 2019. We heard from 52 oral witnesses and received over 120 written submissions on a range of issues that affect our coast. We were clear that the inquiry could not be conducted within the confines of Westminster. We wanted to ensure that the voices of the people who live and work in seaside towns and communities helped shape our inquiry. That is why the committee travelled the country, visiting six different seaside areas, to give people living on the coast the opportunity to tell us about their issues and concerns.
However, during our visits we also saw many examples of where communities have found solutions to the challenges they face, and have reinvented themselves through effective leadership and partnership work, utilising the unique assets that seaside towns have. For too long, these communities have been neglected. They should be celebrated as places that can provide attractive environments for visitors and residents alike. Our report, therefore, made the following recommendations.
We observed inadequate transport connectivity, holding back many coastal communities and hindering their economic potential. We asked for a detailed review of the coastal transport network to assess where the greatest socioeconomic benefits can be realised through improvement to transport links. We commented on the need for improved digital connectivity, presenting a significant opportunity to overcome the challenges of peripherality that persist in coastal areas. The committee felt that the provision of high-quality broadband in coastal locations should be a priority.
We commented on limited access to education, particularly to FE and HE institutions, and how that curtails opportunities for young people in many coastal areas. We considered that greater scope for flexible access, such as online, part-time and distance learning, should be part of the solution, and we recommended that the Government produce ambitious proposals for how this can be achieved. We commented on the cost of post-16 transport, as an impediment to accessing educational opportunities. We recommended that the Government fund relevant local authorities to provide full public transport costs for post-16 year-old students.
Poor-quality housing was among the significant problems reported by residents of seaside areas. We therefore recommended a package of measures to tackle issues related to housing, including measures to address the perverse financial incentives to offer poor accommodation. Recommendations around easing the pressures on inspection and enforcement regimes, and measures to support more regeneration of existing housing, were offered. We commented on local enterprise partnerships. They should have a clear role and responsibility to support seaside regeneration where it is most needed. LEPs can and should help depressed seaside towns to build their visions through local industrial strategies.
Beyond 2021, the committee felt that the coastal communities fund should be focused on projects that aim to encourage sustainable place-based approaches to regeneration. We recommended that the Government should secure town deals for Blackpool and other deprived seaside towns. We strongly supported determined action between Government and local government to tackle the root causes of deprivation. Finally, we felt that a variant of enterprise zones specifically designated for coastal areas could offer seaside towns a package of interventions to meet the challenges of peripherality, poor connections and the difficulty of attracting private investment and businesses to those areas.
The Government’s response was helpful in some ways, but rather disappointing in others. However, at the beginning, it recognised that,
“coastal communities are comparatively more deprived and on average underperform economically in comparison to other areas”, and that, despite investment to date,
“there is more that needs to be done by Government and all stakeholders”.
I think all noble Lords can sign up to that. We welcome this recognition, as it speaks to our core assertion that, although many of the features of deprivation are common across other areas of the country, some seaside towns are labouring under disadvantages. Many have seen a decline in their traditional core industries, most notably domestic tourism, but also fishing, shipbuilding and port activity. Much of the economic activity is linked to seasonality, and their location on the periphery of our country—literally at the end of the line—places them on the periphery of the economy, bringing consequential social problems. The case we made, based on the evidence we received, is that what makes these areas distinct is the combination of industrial decline and geography, and that it is this combination of challenges that warrants dedicated attention and special intervention and support for those communities.
However, although the Government’s response acknowledges that coastal communities are at a particular disadvantage, sadly it failed to give its support for many of the targeted interventions suggested by our report. The response indicates that the Government will act on some of our recommendations, including around transport costs for young people, accessing education and apprenticeships, and considering a town deal for Blackpool; and that they will consider the points we raised on coastal flood risk investment decisions, as part of the preparation for the next flood and coastal erosion risk investment programme, due to start in 2021. We clearly welcome these commitments.
The short introduction to the Government’s response emphasises existing efforts to improve seaside towns, referring to the role of the 146 coastal community teams in providing coastal towns,
“the opportunity to think about what makes them distinctive”.
However, we were clear that, to tackle the persistent issues faced by seaside towns, action and support is needed at all levels, from Government downwards and the community upwards. We welcome the Government’s commitment to reinstate the cross-Whitehall official-level meeting, which we hope will help provide a more strategic approach to coastal communities’ policy-making. There was, however, no detail provided on when these meetings would commence, how regularly they would occur—they have not occurred for nearly 10 years—and what format they might take. A meeting in Whitehall is not a solution to the problems experienced by people living by the coast.
LEPs are tasked with playing a central role in determining local economic priorities and undertaking activities to drive economic growth and job creation, improve infrastructure and raise workforce skills within the local area. They should, therefore, have a significant role to play in the regeneration of seaside towns. However, we heard widespread concern that LEPs, in their focus on job creation and economic improvement, tend to favour building on known successes rather than tackling more problematic areas. We saw a significant opportunity, in the development of local industrial strategies, for LEPs to have a renewed focus on promoting economic growth in seaside towns and for greater collaboration between LEPs that cover coastal areas. We were, therefore, disappointed to see that the Government’s response failed to acknowledge either the concerns raised by the committee about the support offered by LEPs to seaside towns or our recommendation for how this support could be strengthened.
Our recommendations on housing included a comprehensive package of measures aimed at tackling the distinct housing issues residents of seaside towns feel. These relate to the prevalence of poorly managed HMOs. The Government’s response listed the tools that local authorities can use to tackle problem HMOs but failed to take into account the evidence we highlighted that suggested that local authorities in some areas feel that they do not have the resources to use those tools effectively.
Our report made a range of recommendations on higher and further education, highlighting the fact that limited access, in particular to FE and HE institutions, is severely restricting opportunities for young people living in coastal communities.
We welcome the Government’s positive response on post-16 transport. We will be interested in the outcome of the plans laid out in the response for action at ministerial level to address the question of how to ensure that young people are not deterred from taking up apprenticeship opportunities due to travel costs.
We urge the Government to take note of the concerns the committee highlighted as to how well the apprenticeship scheme functions in some areas and sectors with high levels of seasonal employment.
Our report highlighted the shared prosperity fund as a key opportunity to help support coastal business development, particularly in sectors that are often fundamental to seaside towns, such as tourism and retail, and to tackle deprivation in those coastal communities. We recommended that any future plans around the operation and priorities of the fund must set out a clear indication of how our deprived communities will benefit. We also recommended that coastal local authorities must be consulted on how the fund might support regeneration in their areas. The response indicated that the Government,
“would welcome the views of coastal communities on how the UK Shared Prosperity Fund can deliver coastal regeneration, including responses from local authorities and Coastal Community Teams”.
It would be helpful if the Minister could outline how the Government intend to ensure that the views of those living in coastal areas will be heard in this process and how those views will impact on policy development.
With regard to town deal and enterprise zones, we welcome the Government’s commitment to consider a town deal for Blackpool. We feel strongly that support for struggling seaside towns such as Blackpool should involve a strategic approach between national and local authorities and LEPs to address the more intractable economic and social challenges that are causing persistent disadvantage.
The committee recommended that enterprise zones in seaside towns could offer these areas a package of place-based interventions, including financial and practical benefits for business location that could support long-term, sustainable change. As part of this, we also made a plea for arts-led regeneration, which we think the Government have ignored to a greater degree. The Government’s response suggested that there were no plans for additional enterprise zones, and listed programmes such as the coastal communities fund and the coastal revival fund as measures already in place. Although these funds provide a welcome source of support for coastal towns, the report is clear that deprived coastal areas would benefit from a distinct package of measures aimed at promoting local economic activity to ensure that long-term, sustainable improvements can be achieved.
The report stands as a critique of current public policy, in so far as it exists, on coastal communities. It points to the real problems that continue to exist and have worsened over recent years in health, housing, economic prosperity, transport disconnection and education. It is a shocking fact that over the last seven years educational aspiration in coastal communities has regressed, with 27% fewer young people from coastal areas getting into university and no evident signs that training and apprenticeship opportunities have taken up the slack. Social mobility is lowest in those communities. There is real sense that seaside areas, the end-of-the line places we all love, are missing out on the wealth generated in our metropolitan centres and heartlands. Residents of such areas feel left behind. Given that some 4 million people live on the coast and that the coast is a major tourist opportunity for the nation, we need urgently to reverse many of the trends bedevilling coastal prosperity and social inclusion. Our report is a starting point and a way forward. I beg to move.
My Lords, it was an honour to serve on the Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton. I pay tribute to the hard work and assistance of the committee’s excellent clerks and staff. I must make reference to my various interests, as set out in the register, relating to the hospitality industry, since part of our deliberations related specifically to the important role which that industry plays in the life of many seaside resorts. I will limit my contribution to making just a few points and shall do so as promptly as possible, even with the luxury of an untimed debate.
The evidence we received during our work revealed that seaside towns faced three particular areas of challenge: the economy—jobs—infrastructure and education. During one of our evidence sessions, the economist Fernanda Balata from the New Economics Foundation said that what makes coastal communities different is their unique asset: the coastal and marine environment that surrounds them, and living in a 180-degree context. If policies could acknowledge this one priority, it would go a long way to creating better policy-making and support for coastal communities. It was these challenges and opportunities that the committee recognised and which were set out in our wide-ranging report, which covered so many different subjects, from health to housing and education to entertainment. Clearly, the problems of Blackpool are not shared by Bournemouth. That is not to say that parts of Bournemouth are not in need of assistance, but there is no single silver-bullet solution to every issue.
Part of the Government’s general response to our report was:
“The Government will have invested almost £227 million in the Great British Coast by 2020 through dedicated programmes like the Coastal Communities Fund and the Coastal Revival Fund, to help generate jobs and boost businesses and bring iconic or at-risk heritage and community assets back into economic use. This investment is having tangible results in our coastal towns”.
I acknowledge that our inquiry found that significant amounts of public funds were being spent. The problem I felt was that we found it difficult to establish how many jobs had been created and in what way businesses had been “boosted” as a result of these significant investments of taxpayers’ money. Could the Minister come back to me on the percentage contribution to the local economy in terms of jobs and business support which these funds have provided so far?
Cutting through some of the negative statistics that the Select Committee heard in relation to the social and economic position of many, but by no means all, seaside towns, and avoiding the frustration I personally felt at the somewhat casual responses received to questions as to how public funds were being deployed, one positive aspect of assistance which had made a difference to other struggling towns was the establishment of enterprise zones as part of the Government’s wider industrial strategy to support businesses and enable local economic growth. The Government mentioned enterprise zones in their response to our report, but I believe I am right in saying that in the list of current enterprise zones there is only one that could help a seaside town: Great Yarmouth.
I hope that the Government will consider further in the future my proposal that they might establish specific seaside town enterprise zones, or “seaside zones”. Seaside zones, like other enterprise zones, would give clear financial benefits from day one. Seaside zones could be more specific in terms benefiting the hospitality industry, for example, which is one of the largest employers in the seaside economy, accounting for around one in seven jobs, as well as focusing on infrastructure and broadband to help develop business growth. Will the Minister undertake to look again at this proposal?
I also propose that the way in which enterprise zones are currently awarded is thought through. The bidding process by its nature tends to advantage those towns which have a plan and a certain amount of leadership, rather than perhaps those towns which are in most need of the benefits of a zone. Are there any plans in the pipeline to review how enterprise zones are awarded? Will more seaside towns be considered in the future?
At the start of our report, details of the regeneration of New Brighton’s Victoria Quarter are detailed. The committee was struck by this substantial seaside town project being undertaken by a privately funded scheme. While its ultimate outcome is unknown, the early signs of success are evident and we were impressed and persuaded that the project’s characteristics were worthy of amplification. Indeed, they chimed with many of the elements of successful regeneration that we had already identified.
Daniel Davies, whom I know personally in his role as chairman of the Institute of Licensing, has financed this scheme under Rockpoint Leisure. He set out the familiar background of his home town. New Brighton had been a quintessential Victorian seaside town, flourishing until the 1960s. However, a decline in tourism combined with a range of other factors had seen the town’s fortunes dwindle and its image suffer. Mr Davies explained that evidence suggested that the seaside towns which have seen most success in shaking off a negative image are those which have identified their special character and unique selling points. This did not, however, demand reliance on a generic seaside image, which is outdated in some respects and can be unattractive to a large part of the population who consider the whole world to be relatively accessible as a destination. Instead, people need a reason to visit their seaside towns and their motivation should not be dependent entirely on tourism.
On the specifics of the project in New Brighton, the proposal was to provide small, affordable business units and shared-space rental opportunities to encourage small, independent businesses and start-up ventures. The company has now acquired seven premises within the district of the town. All were previously closed and in varying states of dilapidation. Two hospitality venues and a retail venue are currently trading, with a further two hospitality concepts set to open later this year, in addition to a creative hub. To date, the scheme has created more than 100 jobs, with a large proportion of those recruited coming from the local area. Employment numbers are set to rise in 2020.
Much of this success has been due to entrepreneurial skill and the fact that a private individual has been prepared to invest money, but Rockpoint Leisure has also attracted partners in the public sector, harnessing local pride and energy to produce a theme of improvement and stimulating dialogue between all stakeholders to promote community engagement. Much can be learned from this New Brighton venture, which would clearly be an ideal candidate to qualify as a seaside zone if such a zone could be considered. Private and public partnership schemes seem to be the best solution. When the private and public sectors are not engaged with each other, the rate of long-term success would appear to be low.
As we said in our report, visionaries made the seaside what it was. We still have the same entrepreneurial spirit within those communities. We need to harness that energy and local pride and combine it with effective investment from local and central government to deliver once again the needed improvements. In that way we can educate everyone who either does not know or has forgotten about the extraordinary quality of life and leisure time that can be had again beside the seaside, beside the sea.
My Lords, my full title is Lord McNally of Blackpool and I am a member of the Blackpool Pride national advisory board and chairman of the Fleetwood Trust. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, both for his introduction to this debate and for the collegiate and constructive way in which he chaired our committee. I think that we sometimes think of the noble Lord rather as parliamentary enforcer from his days as Chief Whip in the Labour Party, but he led us with great good humour and only a minimal tendency to remind us of what he termed Brighton’s “golden age”, which seemed to coincide with his own leadership of Brighton council in the 1990s. I echo the thanks offered by both the noble Lords, Lord Bassam and Lord Smith, to our clerks and advisers as well as to Nick Ewbank, our specialist adviser, Beth Hooper, our policy analyst, and Robert Cocks, the committee assistant.
“Blackpool exports healthy skilled people and imports the unskilled, the unemployed and the unwell”.
Our report shows that that could have been written about many of our seaside towns. They faced a collapse of the old seaside holiday industry based on boarding houses for the families of the workers of industrial Britain. That collapse was compounded by a straitjacket of a benefits and housing policy which almost incentivised the slum landlord and burdened seaside towns with a concentration of social problems which, by their very nature, accentuated the spiral of decline.
Our report makes strong recommendations about the need for flexibility in national policy so that local authorities could offer bespoke solutions to the social and economic challenges they face. We also call for longer, more strategic assistance rather than a series of short-term, small-impact, penny-packet initiatives.
During our travels, we saw some bold and successful regeneration initiatives, often based on cultural investment, such as the Turner Contemporary at Margate and the Tate at St Ives. At Clacton and Skegness, we saw how investment in sea defences could be used to enhance the tourism offer. We received a wide range of evidence about the importance of transport links and investment in high-quality education and training as well as better digital connectivity. It was encouraging to see on our visit to Skegness how Butlin’s was prospering by providing themed weeks and weekends for specific target audiences —something that could be imitated by other resorts. It was also good to see the Butlin’s company fully committed to a training programme for people wanting to make a career in the leisure industries.
Our report gives the opportunity for a well-co-ordinated, focused approach to the problems facing our seaside towns. As an example of the collegiate approach fostered by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, when the committee started, the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and I were rather at opposite ends of the spectrum, with me looking to public intervention and him espousing private initiative. By the end, I think we were in close agreement that the partnership he mentioned in his speech is necessary for success, as, too, is the kind of initiative he cited in respect of New Brighton, where an individual with a commitment to the locality and a vision for the future can make an enormous difference.
Given its previous success, changes in holiday patterns together with the decline of the historical industrial base meant that Blackpool had a harder fall and was left with bigger problems. It is the very severity of Blackpool’s problems which caused me to argue that giving Blackpool specific and concentrated help was not special pleading. Success in Blackpool could provide the template for dealing with similar problems in other coastal areas. Nor is Blackpool simply holding out the begging bowl. As we found when the committee visited the town, a strong partnership between the private and public sectors is having a major impact on investment and facilities. I look forward to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, whom the Prince’s Responsible Business Network drafted in to give help and advice. She has just finished her term there having had a tremendous impact on local attitudes.
We have seen in Blackpool new hotels, a new conference centre and new leisure attractions, including a new museum to celebrate Blackpool’s unique place in the history of our entertainment industry. This morning, I heard about a plan for a national entertainment academy in partnership with Blackpool and The Fylde College and Lancaster University’s creative arts department. That kind of vision means that Blackpool is very close to the tipping point between being part of the problem of our seaside towns and providing a template for their success.
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th in Blackpool, a partnership between a progressive local authority and far-sighted entrepreneurs created 20th century Blackpool, with the building of the tower, the tramway, the Pleasure Beach and the illuminations. I believe a similar partnership now exists. That is why the committee supported the suggestion of a town deal for Blackpool. By blending existing work with new commitments from partners and government, a town deal for Blackpool would deliver a strong, holistic response to the town’s needs.
As well as a positive Whitehall response, we must also ensure that government really is joined up, so that one department is not undoing the good work being done by another. For example, will the Minister press the Ministry of Justice to make an early decision on relocating Blackpool courts? MoJ delay is delaying the release of £300 million of private sector investment and the creation of 1,000 new jobs via the Blackpool Central leisure development, in which the courts still squat. Can we have an early decision from the Cabinet Office, the DWP and the Ministry of Defence about the consolidation of Civil Service jobs in a new Civil Service hub in Blackpool town centre? That consolidation should include retention by the Ministry of Defence of the Norcross-based Veterans UK unit, which has been serving the social and medical needs of veterans for three generations. Individual departments have to look at the social implications of what they are doing, not just do a tick-box exercise. That will bring civil servants together in what looks like a logical suggestion but will have a devastating effect on an area such as Blackpool, which had and still has a massive concentration of civil servants’ departments. I think I have told the House before that the first job I was ever offered, when I was 16, was in the land registry in St Annes. Who knows where I might have ended up if I had joined then? Probably at the land registry in St Annes.
One of things the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, did, in his collegiate way, was to offer us all an opportunity to write a little block in the report. Noble Lords will have seen that my piece is not about Blackpool but about Fleetwood. That is in part because, during our deliberations, the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, convinced me that the well-being of our ports should also be of concern. In my piece, and in the evidence we received when visiting Fleetwood Dock, we outline the problems that have hit Fleetwood over the past 40 years: the loss of the deep-sea fishing industry, the rail link and the ferry services to Ireland and the Isle of Man. These came on top of the other factors hitting seaside towns, already identified. Following the committee’s visit to Fleetwood, I accepted the chairmanship of the Fleetwood Trust, a charity formed by local church, community and business leaders to restore the old and derelict Fleetwood Hospital as a community hub meeting social, health and community needs. It is a good example of a community making its own weather, and I put on record my thanks for the advice the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, gave us, drawing on his own vast experience, not least in Bromley-by-Bow. Associated British Ports owns a large expanse of derelict land around the old dock area and it is essential that the company shows social and corporate responsibility, as well as its profit motive, in discharging its responsibilities in determining how that land is developed.
Joined-up government and good private and public partnership, are the essentials of regeneration success, which is why I worry about the plethora of bodies one has to negotiate with. Is this a matter for Whitehall or the LEP, for the county council or the local council? In the 1960s there was talk of a city of the Fylde between the Ribble and the Wyre. Certainly, it will need a sense of vision and a certain generosity of spirit between the Fylde coastal bodies to maximise the benefits of any central government initiative. I put on record here my thanks to the Prince’s Trust and the Prince’s Responsible Business Network for the help they have given both Blackpool and Fleetwood in this respect. I was less impressed, on our visit, by the Duchy of Cornwall. We were shown a very impressive housing estate, but I did not leave Cornwall with the feeling that the Duchy was showing the kind of leadership I had expected in the area. Likewise, the Crown Estate could show a lot more responsibility, considering its interests in seaside assets.
I give the last word, however, to the estimable Sarah O’Connor of the Financial Times. Following our report she wrote a second article, reflecting on what we had said, in which she said:
“Real solutions to the problems would include more long-term funding for health, education and social care in seaside towns that reflect the complex needs of living there; physical and digital infrastructure investment; and power and resources for local people to reform their economy and housing markets”.
I could not agree more. We are about to have a new Prime Minister. The Duke of Wellington, when he became Prime Minister, came out of his first Cabinet meeting and said that it was all “Talk, talk, talk”. I think we need a little more from the new Administration. I prefer Churchill’s “Action this day”.
My Lords, in speaking to the report by the Select Committee on the future of seaside towns, I wish to focus on two aspects of our inquiry which had most significance for me. I was a somewhat wayward member of that committee, absent unavoidably from several of its sessions and unable to join many of the specific visits, so I pay tribute to the unqualified concentration brought to the committee not only by its chairman, the consistently committed and well-informed noble Lord, Lord Bassam, but by its diligent and focused members and its excellent and sympathetic staff.
First then, education. I had the chance to chair an afternoon round-table discussion among schoolchildren in Skegness. They loved their home town. They were lively, enthusiastic and hopeful for their futures. But problems soon became evident. All seemed well enough until they began to plan for their jobs. Skegness is not alone among seaside resorts in lacking adequate higher education opportunities. What is more, transport to reach the nearest such opportunities is poor and costly for young people. Rail connections are few—Beeching devastated Lincolnshire. People struggle to get from Skegness to the county town of Lincoln. There is an hourly bus service that takes two hours. From Mablethorpe, the journey—five buses a day—also takes two hours, with a change of buses at Louth, or there is an hourly service via Skegness, taking three hours and two minutes. These lengthy times are all within one county.
In its evidence, Bus Users UK highlighted the problems this creates for young job searchers across the country. Some 23% of 18 to 24 year-olds responding to its survey cited the lack of a suitable bus service, often aggravated by local authority cuts, as a key barrier to finding jobs. Our report found that inadequate transport connectivity is holding many coastal communities back and recommended that the Department for Transport prioritise improvements to the coastal transport system. Unfortunately, the Government’s response is feeble, throwing the responsibility back to various local authorities. Our further suggestion that the Government fund local authorities to provide full public transport costs for post-16 students in coastal communities had slightly more success. We were referred to the 16 to 19 year-old bursary fund and the intention to launch a consultation on how it might one day help with transport—by which time it will of course be too late for the young people round the table in Skegness.
Their chances of higher education need major attention—we have seen the difference that the University of Sussex made to the economy of Brighton. Of course, that is not going to happen in many seaside resorts, although the chance of having outlying hubs of learning from inland universities should not be dismissed. It is all the more important that online, part-time and distance learning get strong government support—suggestions endorsed by the recent findings of the Augar report on post-16 year-old study. This would of course be enhanced if the Government seriously addressed the shortcomings in the availability of wi-fi in many communities. We were discussing this six years ago when I sat on the Communications Committee. Progress is sluggish. Why?
My second interest is in the arts and entertainment. I recently had the pleasure of presenting Worthing with the pier of the year award—I am one of the patrons of the National Piers Society. At that event, the mayor emphasised how much the pier and its theatre contributed to the town’s identity and appeal. This is so for the approximately 50 piers around England and Wales. Many of them are thriving: Cromer, Clacton, Southend and Deal are all enjoying new investment. Individual entrepreneurs—the kind of people referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Smith—take a personal delight in making them a success. Councils are keen to help but struggle to find funding. Piers remain a ready-built, attractive and popular destination for thousands of visitors. They deserve more support from heritage funding.
More broadly, we heard how the arts in general help to regenerate and rejuvenate a coastal resort. The south coast is known for what the Arts Council has referred to as its string of pearls: art galleries stretching along the south coast from Margate, Hastings and Bexhill to Eastbourne, are all thriving. Artists looking for affordable studios are coming in increasing numbers to such seaside resorts and are themselves becoming a hub of cultural activity. St Ives is perhaps our most celebrated and long-term success. Margate is another. Deal is growing in popularity too. It is a spontaneous social movement that is making such resorts more popular in general.
It is a given for investment by the Government, and they can already see the benefits such investments are bringing. I urge them to grasp the opportunities so evident in this field, seize the day and make seaside resorts the destinations we want to visit in ever greater numbers.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, and the whole of the Select Committee on their excellent report. It is a brilliant and comprehensive analysis of the issues affecting our seaside towns and a road map for the positive changes that could transform these places.
I will say something about housing in coastal towns, which is covered by chapter 5 in the report, which notes:
“Issues relating to housing emerged as one of the most prominent concerns voiced by coastal towns”.
Many of the housing concerns in the seaside towns are the same as those elsewhere. Their problems are national ones; most prominent is the need for many more homes that are decent, secure and affordable for those who need them. As elsewhere, what is needed will not be met by reliance on the oligopoly of volume housebuilders providing their standardised homes so profitably on out-of-town greenfield sites. Coastal towns, just like other places, require investment in regenerating what is already there, utilising brownfield sites and bringing existing homes up to decent standards.
Many of the Select Committee’s recommendations call for central government to eschew national, one-size-fits-all policies and give local authorities greater flexibility to prioritise what councils see to be the best approaches locally. This definitely goes for housing, and I strongly support all the committee’s housing recommendations. I will pick up just one aspect of these tonight and target it under the broad heading of devolving decision-making. My chosen single issue is the subject of the Select Committee’s recommendation that,
“the Government implements changes to the system for the calculation of local housing allowance rates in areas with high densities of HMOs”— houses in multiple occupation—
“to ensure it more accurately reflects local market rents”.
Dull and technical this certainly sounds, but herein lies an enormously important matter that the Government’s response to the committee has not covered.
I had the real pleasure of visiting Blackpool in March and was greatly impressed by the commitment, energy and determination of the council’s staff handling housing matters. I was equally impressed by the team from the council’s subsidiary body, the Blackpool Housing Company, which is doing fantastic work acquiring and upgrading truly awful redundant tourist accommodation. However, I discovered that, like many other seaside towns, Blackpool’s efforts are being hopelessly undermined by the way the housing benefit system is operating there. The system, based on local housing allowance which sets the figure that the DWP will pay in housing benefit to cover rent, has incentivised the worst kind of landlord to buy up and let out really appalling slums while simultaneously making it impossible for the council and its partners to upgrade the quality of the housing in central Blackpool. How has this situation come about?
The local housing allowance, LHA, fixes the level for housing benefit payments at the rent being charged for properties in the cheapest one-third of all rented properties that are located in that broad rental market area. Because Blackpool lies within a broad rental market area that covers a number of more upmarket locations, a high proportion of all Blackpool’s rented housing falls easily within the 30% cheapest of the whole area. Moreover, this very unsophisticated local housing allowance does not distinguish on the basis of space standards or the condition of the property, so a tiny flat in dismal condition in a dilapidated terrace has the same local housing allowance—which housing benefit will cover—as a decent apartment in a restored avenue.
Nor does the allowance pay any regard to the quality of the management and maintenance service: the absentee slum landlord is treated in the same way as the most conscientious local landlord. As an example, a minute one-bedroom flat in Blackpool in a property divided into eight such units commands a local housing allowance of £85 a week; £680 per week from the DWP for the whole house, with no improvements and no maintenance. Conversion by the Blackpool Housing Company into four decent one-bedroom flats let at market rents would produce half the income for infinitely better appointed and managed accommodation. Because rogue landlords—I was told that a number of those coming into town pay for their properties in cash—can get such a high return, they will always pay more for those properties than responsible, decent providers. The Government’s housing benefit is fuelling the business of disreputable operators and preventing real solutions.
In other parts of the UK, the LHA figure for housing benefit causes quite different problems, greatly compounded by a freeze since 2015: in so many places the LHA level is lower than actual market rents for virtually any available property, so there is a gap or shortfall between the payment obtainable from the DWP for rent and the actual rent that must be paid. The tenants reliant on the state in these places must cover this shortfall from their other benefits, which were meant to be for food and heating, et cetera. But this shortfall is not the problem in many seaside towns, with their legacy of cheap, run-down guesthouses and B&B properties. Rather, in Blackpool and similar towns, your rent will be fully covered, making these places magnets for DWP claimants and a place for other councils to send their vulnerable claimants. Every year, around 5,000 households eligible for housing benefit move into Blackpool, many of them with personal problems—of physical and mental health, drug abuse or alcoholism. Blackpool’s suicide rate is the highest in the country. A system that concentrates the most vulnerable in one place and incentivises this trend into the future is a disaster for that place’s health and well-being.
Of course, I greatly encourage councils to use all their powers to enforce proper standards; government has recently introduced some tough extra measures to enable local authorities to tackle rogue landlords. However, this is attacking the problem after the event, not preventing it, and reductions in funding for local authorities and the priority that must go to social care and other essentials has meant cuts in personnel, including environmental health officers and trading standards officers. Enforcement against bad landlords will not be enough while the housing benefits system continues to undermine all the council’s efforts.
The solution for Blackpool and other seaside towns is to make this local housing allowance truly local by engaging with councils such as Blackpool to set the LHA level dependent on the market within the specific locality, and the property’s condition, space standards, management and maintenance. The intention must be to remove the current incentives for the very worst kinds of landlords who concentrate as many vulnerable people as possible into appalling conditions, and instead to create a level playing field for the vital work done by social landlords and other not-for-profit and genuinely responsible operators so that they can transform these seaside towns.
My Lords, like other members of the committee, I thank my noble friend Lord Bassam—briefly, but with feeling—for the wonderful way in which he chaired the committee, and I thank the staff and the other members of the committee for giving me an enjoyable nine months exploring this subject and for a useful report that does the House some credit. It is also a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Best, who brings his great expertise in housing and saves me from having to talk about it, because he has said it all. As a committee, we all had his insights from his visit to Blackpool. I want to underline his comments for the Minister, who I could see was listening carefully, and who I hope will pass those insights back to the department.
Around two years ago, my son told me that he had received messages on Facebook from his former classmates at Wey Valley School in Weymouth. They had left 10 years prior to that. There was an attempt to get a class reunion going, using a private group on Facebook. Fergus said that this gave him a chance to find out what all his classmates were doing. He said that everyone who, like him, had done A-levels over the hill in Dorchester had now gone on to university and left Dorset, and they were not coming back. I asked about the others. The person who had instigated this was one of the more enterprising young men in his class, and, like all the other enterprising men who were still in Weymouth, he was a personal fitness trainer—the enterprising job of choice. The other young men, who were slightly less enterprising, were dead, in prison or on benefits. The young women who did not get over the hill to do A-levels in Dorchester were all mums with two or three kids, and they did not have a class reunion, because £10 was more than they could afford for an evening out.
That told me a story, fairly graphically, of the social mobility problem in a town such as Weymouth, where, incidentally, as the report says, all the secondary schools are now in a below-average Ofsted category and are struggling. It has reinforced a sense that we need to focus more on community-level social mobility rather than just focusing on what education can do for individuals. At heart, that is what this committee was trying to get at. To achieve that, you need more population diversity than we get in a place such as Weymouth, where those struggling with disadvantage are to some extent crowded out statistically by an elderly, asset-rich population; they have their own problems, which I do not want to belittle, but they skew some of the statistics. That community and others like them around our coast also need economic diversity, away from the old bucket-and-spade, stag-night economy into something that, in the end, offers graduate-level employment. We will not regenerate these places without an offer that will entice some of Fergus’s classmates back to Dorset, or people like them back to Weymouth.
The problem is that these places are on the periphery of the economy and their problems are dispersed. My noble friend Lady Bakewell talked about the string of pearls—whatever they are, they are a string of issues. If they were concentrated together, we would all know about them a lot more. To some extent, they are concentrated in Blackpool, which is why the media picks on Blackpool unfairly. But that dispersal makes them easy to ignore. How will we get those aspirational, graduate-level jobs and careers? It is about culture, decent coffee and places to get nice food, a night-time economy that suits such people, and—if they are then going to have families—decent schools and health facilities.
These areas have a positive offer for quality of life. There is a fantastic quality of life in Weymouth and those other communities around the country. They also have cheap housing, but that is also a negative, because that is what has brought in those rogue landlords the noble Lord, Lord Best, talked about. From my experience as a constituency MP in South Dorset, what follows for the people living in those concentrations of houses in multiple occupancy is a terrible quality of life due to neighbourhood nuisance caused by some of the problems of those places that spill out. The classic regeneration solutions of residential planning gain or getting an anchor retail development do not quite cut it because of the periphery and because in a lot of these places the land values are not there to drive much commercial development.
To my mind, the answer is around the place-based approach that the report talks about, but led by education. Of course, I am biased—your Lordships will be aware of my interests in education, particularly as I work for TES Global. But I see the future—we are talking about the future of these places, not the halcyon days of the past—and it is in human capital development. That is what education is all about; the future economy will value human capital. We need to build talent pipelines in these places and not have education systems that are funnels which filter people out. The disadvantaged will always lose out from that filter. Bear in mind what employers are now starting to do when they hire; they are moving away from filtering on the basis of educational qualifications and starting to use talent analytics to work out what people can do, not accepting certificates as proxies for what they can do. That presents opportunities as well as challenges for the established status quo of education.
Where should we go in education? First and foremost, we need to focus on adult skills. There are great talents latent in these communities that need to be brought back in through a proper adult skill system. I would love to see a return to individual learning accounts—obviously, on a fraud-free basis.
We need a revival of part-time higher education. What has happened to the Open University, thanks to the way the funding system has been constructed, is a tragedy for such places. We need decent connectivity so that online learning, such as FutureLearn, run by the OU, can help in those places. We need integration with further education. We need apprenticeship ladders into the sectors that can offer aspirational graduate-level employment, so that a degree apprenticeship can be developed for sectors such as tourism and energy production with a sense of pace.
We also need a balanced curriculum in our schools, because employers are frustrated by our narrow focus in the school system. There is an obsession with the academic, with cognitive development at the expense of social and emotional development. That comes from study of the humanities and creative subjects, from more application of knowledge as well as its development. That is what employers want. We see that in the UTCs—the Scarborough UTC is mentioned in the report—and some of the innovative higher education development in places such as Coventry and Scarborough. That is very much to be welcomed.
The Government will say—I have read their response—that they are doing some of that place-based work in education through the opportunity areas. I was disappointed by the copy-and-paste approach from the Department for Education in the government response. It read just like a bunch of lines to feed to Ministers for questions. Instead, we need something that tries properly to understand what the committee was getting at.
There is freedom to innovate and I would love to see that deployed in our coastal areas to build collaboration, more vertical integration between school and further and higher education, an opportunity to remodel our teaching workforce around a different, more practical curriculum, that workforce enhanced by technology and able to do things previously inconceivable pedagogically, because they are being fed the raft of information that technology can now give teachers in the classroom. That innovation—that freedom from regulation and the stranglehold of our accountability system—in places such as Weymouth, where all our secondary schools are fundamentally struggling, would be a real liberation and a basis for the sort of coastal challenge strategy that the committee is after.
All that needs leadership, and others have talked about the need for leadership vision. Teach First was kind enough to bring some teachers up to Westminster to meet us, and we met one from Weymouth, who has come back to Weymouth having been brought up there. That is the only reason she came back as a graduate: she came to work in that seaside town because that is where she grew up. She was familiar with it, she knew about the quality of life, she knew she could get cheap housing and had already bought her first house. She was an example of the great offer for professionals, but she came back only because there was public sector employment.
We can get this right for seaside towns. We have a hugely divided nation at the moment. We need to give people on our periphery hope. If we can get it right for our seaside towns, we can get it right everywhere. Let us deliver the place-based approach and devolve power to leadership—be it private, voluntary or public sector—in those places so that they can get on and lift their communities.
My Lords, following the wise words we have just heard, I want to take you on a journey of nearly 500 miles from Weymouth to Berwick-upon-Tweed. I am fortunate to live in the beautiful, historic seaside border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and this valuable report examines many of the problems our town and many other seaside towns face.
We do not have the problem of a transient population and multi-occupied housing on the scale of Blackpool—I am fond of Blackpool from both childhood and party conferences, which I regret to say no longer happen there. I still have a great regard for Blackpool and recognise the seriousness of the problem. But we have all the other problems: seasonal employment, low wages, educational disadvantage, remoteness from medical services and the problems of being at the end of the road. In our case, the road is the A1, with still no plans to dual it the whole way to Berwick, although it is largely dualled on the Scottish side of the border.
I am glad that the report refers to what it describes as the 180 degrees factor. If you draw a circle to show the catchment area of a seaside town, the area on which it can draw from local trade, jobs and services is only a semicircle, because half of it is in the sea. In Berwick’s case, for public services, most of that semicircle does not count either, because it is on the Scottish side of the border and there is now an artificial barrier to access things across the border. That population is not counted in planning local service provision.
I must pay tribute to what local volunteers have achieved in making our town more attractive than ever to residents and visitors alike, drawing in public funding to do so. The Coronation and Castle Parks in Berwick have been wonderfully restored. The Maltings arts centre is a great cultural and entertainment asset, and the traditional Victorian resort amenities in Spittal have been beautifully restored and maintained through the work of the Spittal Improvement Trust.
That is what the report refers to as,
“the restoration and enhancement of the public realm and cultural heritage assets through capital investment”.
A lot of it has been done by volunteers and backed by local small business.
In this context, I mention another small Northumberland seaside town, Amble. It was a friendly but declining former coal mining and coal-exporting town, but now it is a lively and popular place to live and visit, with many small craft and food businesses, making Amble Harbour Village a growing attraction.
Berwick’s economy benefits greatly from tourism, probably much more than it did in Victorian times, particularly because of the large number of visitors in the caravan and holiday parks in and near the town and the increasing number of holiday lets, although they create housing problems of which the noble Lord, Lord Best, is aware.
Tourism can contribute even more if we get investment in underused attractions, such as Berwick’s early 18th century barracks. New funding initiatives such as the tourism deal and the Borders growth deal, a cross-border initiative, need to include not just very big projects near centres of population but projects in more isolated seaside towns, where a little can achieve a lot. I hope it is understood by the North East local enterprise partnership and the combined authority, in their bid for funding for a tourism zone in the region under the Government’s tourism sector deal, that those small communities need to share in those projects, because it all seems a bit remote from us. Northumberland County Council, in evidence to the committee, warned of too much emphasis on honeypot sites in VisitBritain’s work, with not much trickle-down to seaside towns.
However, the future of seaside towns is not just about tourism, important although it is: it is about deprivation, underprovision and lack of opportunity, and how we tackle them. It is about young people leaving the area because of our lack of opportunity, and consequently limited aspirations and low wages for those who remain—a point to which a previous noble Lord referred.
The only population growth in our area is from people who retire to the area, attracted by its beauty and lower house prices. Many are active contributors to the life of the community and to the very volunteer initiatives I spoke about earlier, but they cannot replace the lost generation of young people. In many areas, the presence of a university or college brings more young people into the area, some of whom stay, which in turn increases the opportunities and aspirations of local young people.
I cannot think of anywhere in England as far away from a university or further education college as Berwick-upon-Tweed. The report refers to limited access to education, in particular to FE and HE institutions, which severely curtails opportunities and dents aspirations for young people in some coastal areas. That is our story; it is very much what we experience. In paragraph 148 the report accepts that there is never going to be a bricks-and-mortar offering of higher education in every coastal town. No, but no town should be as far from such things as Berwick is. A higher education presence in the town, and a bigger further education presence—given that at present there are only elements provided by a distant college—would be hugely beneficial. We also need a new-build and newly administered high school. Academy status did not solve the problems of Berwick’s only post-13 school, and in some respects made it more difficult to secure the improvements needed. The target investment recommended in the report for secondary schools in seaside communities is certainly needed in Berwick.
Post-16 transport, which the committee refers to, has been a great problem for us. The only alternative to the local high school that became an academy is to go to a very distant further education college in Newcastle or Ashington. When the Liberal Democrats were running the council as a minority administration, we introduced free transport for those journeys. The next administration removed that provision, and it is time that we went back to dealing with the denial of opportunity that that means. There is no comparison between the position of someone within cheap or free daily travelling distance of further education and someone deprived by the very high cost of getting to a distant college.
Local authority funding in general affects the provision of so much in seaside communities. We all know how severely it has been restricted in recent years; it threatens many of the services on which we depend. Capital funding of projects has an important part to play in restoring and increasing the community assets of seaside towns, but it cannot replace the day-to-day funding needed to provide essential public services as well as to maintain and make use of those assets. There are few things more frustrating for seaside communities than to see restored facilities falling back into decline because the funding to maintain them or to promote continued activity in them has dried up.
We see similar issues in the National Health Service. We are awaiting a long-promised new hospital, but the issue for local people will be whether it is funded well enough to provide the widest range of health services that can be provided safely locally, since we are 50 miles from any of the main hospitals.
When you live in an attractive seaside town, you have great opportunities to enjoy the scenery and the presence of the sea, but that is not sufficient compensation if you need, and do not have, many of the opportunities and public and social services which, if you live in larger towns and cities, you can rely on or even take for granted. I do not think the Government’s response goes far enough in tackling these unfair disadvantages of many seaside communities.
My Lords, it was my pleasure, too, to serve on such a thoughtful and solution-focused committee. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for chairing the Committee in such an open-minded and collaborative way. On a personal note, if your Lordships will indulge me, this was my first time serving on a Select Committee and I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord for his encouragement and support as I learned the ropes. I assure my Front Bench that I did my very best not to agree with him too often. Our clerks were absolutely first class and a pleasure to work with; I extend my thanks to them too.
The inquiry was important to me at a personal level, as someone who spent childhood weekends at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea—not quite as far up as the noble Lord, Lord Beith, but the proud north-east, all the same—and regular summer holidays in Blackpool. I know that I can never compete with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in his love of Blackpool; but, when we went on our highly informative fact-finding trip last September, it felt like only yesterday that I was heading back to our guest house on Reads Avenue, on a high after meeting Keith Harris and Orville.
As the political world raged around us on all sides, it was a relief to focus in depth and in detail on ways to allow all our fantastic seaside towns to prosper. Some of them are really prospering, and thanks to excellent local leadership and innovative ideas have responded to change and remain exciting, dynamic places to be. Those that experience social and economic difficulties are certainly not lacking in things to be proud of, as we heard from some inspirational young people we met who were working in Blackpool Tower.
We have a balancing act to perform, here, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, alluded to. We must not fall into the trap of pushing out solely negative messages: how utterly demoralising it is for young people growing up in towns that are talked about purely in terms of problems. Every town that we heard about or visited had many things to be proud of, including the way in which many of them are tackling difficult legacy issues. While Westminster and Whitehall too often talk in terms of strategies and processes, our most impressive evidence came from those with a people-focused approach. In the report we highlighted a dynamic GP in Fleetwood, who gave us a very impressive overview of a community public health campaign he had spearheaded with colleagues, which delivered tangible physical and mental health improvements for many local residents. What sticks in my mind is his insight into why it worked so well: because people were supported and encouraged to own their own improvements, they became the do-ers, rather than the done-to.
This, for me, is the key to turning around the communities that face particular socioeconomic problems. To be clear, it is not an abdication of responsibility on the part of government. On the contrary, it is about the need to be much clearer about and more focused on how and where support is given to towns. While I agree that Whitehall needs to be far more joined-up—although we say that in every debate we ever have—our recommendation that the Government reinstate a cross-Whitehall meeting about seaside towns comes with a caveat from me. Be very clear about what the centre can and cannot deliver. Take swift action where clearly needed. We have heard about a number of policy recommendations at a central level, all of which are sensible. But the Government’s job is to empower, rather than micro-manage, local communities; we can be more diligent, first, and then more creative in how we do that.
On diligence, I would like to see a much clearer evaluation of the outcomes of distribution of public funds and the plethora of strategies, deals and zones we have heard about. I support the point that my noble friend, Lord Smith, made about that. We often had to push too hard when we were taking evidence from departments and public bodies to get concrete examples of successful outcomes. A more joined-up, cross-government approach can address this, but lines of responsibility must be very clear: who is going to grip this? And of course, the political will must be there. I believe that it is, but we need to see direction from the very top of government from day one of the next Prime Minister taking office, whoever is chosen.
We can also be more creative, though, and work harder at thinking about policy from a people-centric approach. Of course, the committee addressed some critical issues such as housing, transport infrastructure and broadband, all of which are fundamental to unlocking potential within many of the towns we discussed. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, pointed out, structural improvements will not by themselves turn around a lack of confidence in young people who have never seen anyone go out to work. Better broadband and transport links will not in themselves give a mid-life or older person the confidence to retrain, or give anyone the courage to try a new venture and achieve the entrepreneurial spirit we talked about. Hard policy interventions will not end the sometimes snobby attitudes to the hospitality industry which mean that young people do not know about the brilliant opportunities for fast career progression.
For that, we need campaigners, role models and an education system that has the resources, the space and the contacts to prepare young people and support older people to find and work for the best employers, and to aspire themselves to be the best employers. In their response, the Government recognised the need to attract outstanding teachers to seaside towns and set out a number of pilot initiatives on offer, albeit limited to certain subjects. I agree to some extent with the points that the noble Lord, Lord Knight, made: it did feel like a slightly piecemeal approach. I hope that the Government will act quickly to assess the success of the initiatives and extend them if they are demonstrably driving up numbers. I am by nature very cautious about calling for more taxpayers’ money. If ever there is a case for investment, though, it is in people who open up the world for others.
Of course, there is also an onus on local education and business leaders and other employers to work more closely together to provide exposure to opportunities in the world of work at an earlier age. Something that annoys me in politics and in debates such as this is when people talk about areas that are economically deprived and say, “There is real poverty of aspiration”. It is hard to aspire to something if you cannot even see what is on offer and how the world is changing. We should not believe that these people are any different from us or that they do not want better lives for their children; we need to open that world up to them.
On that point, we were forced to ask ourselves whether we are educating people to stay or to go. If we get things right, people will stay, or leave and come back, or leave—but, crucially, to be replaced by others who want to work in a vibrant, thriving community. In theory, the fourth industrial revolution should be a great opportunity to reinvent and revitalise: base yourself anywhere, set up a business in an area of great beauty, teach and bring up children by the sea, and stay close to your extended family, or come back to them. I urge the Government to pick up the pace because I genuinely believe that for our seaside towns, based on many of the inspiring local leaders and local people we had the pleasure to meet, the sky can be the limit.
My Lords, I was a member of this Select Committee for a short time, during which I heard its members, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Bassam, set about producing the report before us. I express my admiration for my noble friend and the committee—indeed, for all those responsible for this splendid report and its recommendations.
Over the years, there have been many notable reports on the problems facing our seaside towns—for example, by the British Tourist Authority, Sheffield Hallam University and others—but none as comprehensive as this one. As someone born and raised in the seaside towns of Broadstairs and Ramsgate, I witnessed their highs and lows—problems also witnessed in one form or another in seaside resorts up and down the country after the Second World War. In the case of Thanet, it was mostly day-trippers from London that brought prosperity to the town’s hoteliers and amusement industries, until the early to mid-1950s—not the 1970s, as some say—when there was a dramatic decline in that prosperity: working-class people, finding more money in their pockets, discovered the affordable summer climates of Spain, France, Portugal and other places, leaving the Thanets of this world unable to compete.
Today, as the report demonstrates, the challenges for our seaside towns have grown immensely. The social deprivation levels in many are becoming more manifest, as a combination of long-term industrial decline and a lack of support for housing, educational opportunities and infrastructure have left communities sidelined and largely ignored. Successive Governments have largely ignored or failed to see the problems that have mounted over the years, but the report points to some key ways in which Governments of whatever persuasion can start to rectify the ills of yesteryear. The committee’s recommendations for greater support for the tourism industry in those towns that rely on it, diversification for other towns and renewed investment in housing, education, and physical and digital infrastructure are very welcome.
The need for such investment is particularly pressing in the light of the austerity measures that we have seen imposed on our more deprived coastal areas. While seemingly giving generous grants with one hand, with the Coastal Communities Fund, the Government have taken away with the other, leaving local authorities in coastal towns forced to compete with each other for the funds that are available. It is particularly welcome to see the committee recommend that, in moving forward with a potential tourism sector deal, the Government give full account to the important role played by seaside towns in the tourism industry.
It is often said that the industries of tourism and hospitality have not been as active as they might in putting their case, including that of the seaside towns, before central government. A good deal of that stems from the fact that these industries are fragmented, without a central body to fully represent their needs. I know that it is an old chestnut of mine, stemming from the days when I was the shadow Minister for Sport and Tourism, but I argue now, as I did then, that until there is a Cabinet post for these industries, providing a powerful voice at the centre of government, the real strength of their case, including for seaside resorts, will not be heard or acted on.
These industries provide much to our economy; our brilliant Library kindly supplied me with the figures to show this. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport reported that, in 2017, the tourism industry contributed £67.7 billion to the UK economy, accounting for 3.7% of UK gross value added, and that, in 2018, it provided an estimated 1.6 million jobs—4.7% of all UK employment. The hospitality industry is the third biggest employer in the UK, providing 3.2 million jobs directly and a further 2.8 million indirectly; in 2017, the industry likewise generated more than £72 billion in GVA to the UK economy. These are strong industries with great potential on which many of our seaside towns depend. I hope that this report will be an important step forward in raising their profile in the eyes of government, for I cannot believe that, given the right leadership, this important sector will be denied a seat at the top table.
What cannot happen is for the Government to respond, as we saw in the report, by merely saying that they will carefully consider these recommendations then, as so often happens, seldom enact many of the proposals contained within. Our seaside towns have been pushed to the periphery for too long. I very much hope to see strong action from the Government to implement this committee’s esteemed road map for regenerating our coastal towns. My noble friend Lord Bassam and his committee have made a positive and compelling case for this important sector of our tourism and hospitality industries to be taken more seriously by government.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and the clerks for a very well-run committee. It was an enjoyable experience. We did some very useful digging into some of the issues faced by our seaside towns. It is one of the better committees that I have sat on. The amount of interest from local communities across the country and in the media was encouraging. The visits programme was particularly useful and instructive.
My colleagues and I have spent 35 years on the inside of the regeneration game. We have lived through and engaged with eight different Governments and tried with them all to be practical and pragmatic, building working relationships and making things work. In committees, we have not sat on top of the machinery, reading papers and looking down; we have purposefully placed ourselves in the middle of the machinery, and tried to join it up and make it work. We have the long view from the inside and the grey hairs to prove it.
We have also stayed focused in one housing estate in east London for all this time, so we have seen first-hand what happens as endless three-year policy initiatives pass through the poorest and most challenged communities in this country, with the latest bright idea from a Minister intent on making their mark. Of course, they never stay around long enough to see the consequences of their actions. We have many successful regeneration projects—some small, some very big—under our belts in the real world. The organic people-focused approach that helped us to get them there looks like the approach taken in the mythical town of Seaminster.
In Bradford we are bringing together with the local community a £22 million, 24/7, health, leisure, enterprise and community cluster development opposite the local teaching hospital in a mainly Pakistani area that has all the challenges we have been looking at in coastal towns. The Seaminster approach, or something similar to it, is one that we are trying to encourage. It starts with people and relationships rather than process, strategy and consultation so favoured by our civil servants.
It is interesting if you move beyond the usual ideological rhetoric that so often in practice undermines communities such as these and initiate an entrepreneurial culture focused on the principles set out in our report how quickly key players in the local community—the teaching hospital, the council, the business community—turn up at your door and start to create what we call a “sticky ball” that money, opportunity and people can start to stick to and connect with. We call that approach communities in business as distinct from a community in committee. I declare my interest as chairman of the Social Business Well North enterprises.
My reflections today are concerned with the inner workings of this regeneration machinery, the inside view. My colleagues and I have come to the conclusion that large parts of this government machinery are fundamentally not fit for purpose in a modern enterprise economy. The noble Lord, Lord Best, illustrated an aspect of this in his helpful presentation on housing. We have seen a lot of evidence that confirms this, yet on the ground in practice it seems that little changes.
The insights given to us by Chris Baron, the resort director of Butlins in Skegness, with his 500,000 visitors a year—the biggest private sector employer in the area—focused our minds. He told us of the key role his business played in supporting local employment, skills and training, and of his ambition for the company to offer more people more work across 52 weeks of the year. Yet recent changes in the national apprenticeship scheme were presenting real challenges. The basics of the scheme the Government had created did not work for him. I have heard this from other business people across the country. The latest national apprenticeship scheme—which could if it worked properly make a massive difference for the employment of young people in the town in an impressive business—was in practice preventing the very relationships that he needed to make it work.
We were also told by the public sector committee that we met in Skegness that there were real challenges working with partners at a national level; that national objectives, frameworks and guidelines did not always fit with local need; that there was a need for recognition of the length of time that development projects take and that those involved need to be able to plan over the long term. They of course failed to tell us, though, that every school in the town was in special measures. These disconnects are serious for the next generation.
A retired and disillusioned chartered engineer from Hornsea told us in his written evidence, which captured his frustration:
“We need our ‘stolen’ infrastructure to be restored before this area can be regenerated. Whilst as individuals we do our best, the local council does not encourage cooperation”.
Just after our report was launched I was rung up by a BBC journalist, Polly Weston, who had been given a brief to choose any postcode in the country and just turn up and see what was happening. She had landed in Ferryside, a small coastal seaside town in Wales. She had been listening online to our committee’s deliberations and was interested in the points I was making about the disconnects that were taking place across siloed governance structures, particularly in this case with regard to the Coastal Communities Fund. When I described our experiences over many years of the disconnects in the machinery she told me that this was exactly what was happening in Ferryside with the Coastal Communities Fund.
An academic who had recently moved locally was good at filling in government grant forms. He played the game and ticked all the boxes and secured a great deal of government funding. The programme, called the Patch, then takes you through the realities of what then happened on the ground as a consequence of this approach: namely, the wastage of money and the unintended consequences—a micro-story that you could replicate a thousand-fold across seaside towns. Polly told me how local people could not understand why money had been given for this rather eccentric project rather than supporting the struggling local school, for example. It turned out that the grant was from the Coastal Communities Fund, a joint initiative between the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Big Lottery to support projects that create new and sustainable—that is, long-lasting—jobs. This programme has spent £174 million on 295 projects UK-wide. It sounds excellent—except that, when Polly dug deeper, she found that it had not been evaluated and that the one and only project that those running the scheme could give as a successful example had already closed.
It is a classic example of the best intentions failing as a result of the assumptions made in the way it was implemented. Was it likely that civil servants and lottery officers would be able to pick successful entrepreneurs they often had not even met, in places they knew little about and probably had not even visited? I am sure that they all had lots of qualifications and degrees—but perhaps very little nous. It is the same mistake we make over and over again. You want to invest in a business in a small seaside town. How about getting experienced entrepreneurs to spend some time in it, get a feel for what is happening, what is what, who is making a real difference, spread the word and then invite people to come and pitch? We say that it is not about structures and processes. It is all about people meeting people and making judgments—on that basis primarily—and not on reports and papers. To me as a Yorkshireman it seems blindingly obvious and very straightforward, and I confess that I struggle to understand why anyone thought the approach taken with this fund—like so many others—would work.
We heard from the northern powerhouse initiative and the confident assertions of the Minister, Jake Berry MP, at the top of government; yet on the ground you hear a different story and real scepticism in our coastal communities that any of these fine words or money will get to them or make any difference, particularly in coastal communities and other communities outside our large northern cities. The LEP structures have clearly been a mixed bag when it comes to their effectiveness. Some say that many of them are neither local, enterprising or a good partner to work with—a mixed bag.
Another sad example is the difficulties the Heritage Lottery has got itself into by backing a charity to run Hastings pier, focusing on process rather than people and skills, I wonder whether the heritage assessors really knew about running a business on a pier. Did they get to know and assess the people who are going to run it or just focus on a business plan—which, as everyone who has ever run a business usually knows, falls apart on about day 10, and then you start again based on your actual experience rather than on assumptions. This is sad because it sets up people to fail and makes it harder it for the people who then have to try to turn things around.
The clues as to what we should do in the macro in our coastal communities are in the micro—in the opportunities we have seen. It is not about strategies, policies and research, so favoured by our civil servants. The modern world is all about people and opportunities. We have seen and met some of these amazing people who are doing this stuff—often despite rather than because of—in our coastal towns. We need to back them. We need to get behind the Lagoon project in Hull long term, or the approach of Hemingway’s multidisciplinary design agency, which told us that it transforms and cares about the detail as much as the big stuff: an important clue here. It believes in the power of culture-led regeneration and it achieves this through an inclusive process that it calls co-design. Wayne Hemingway was born in the coastal town of Morecambe and the Hemingway family home is by the sea. They say they have a stake in the coastline: another clue here.
However, how are these important traits weighted when it comes to government procurement? Very little, I suggest—yet they are in my experience an important key to success. Their passion was clear to the committee. The noble Lord, Lord Grade, rightly commented on it with some amusement. Their work in Boscombe, Margate and Morecambe is impressive. Jan Leandro of the Dreamland Trust said of them:
“It was like trying to paint with fog until Hemingway Design came along”.
There are many others like them. We have met them.
The engineers BuroHappold told us:
“The key thing that we have learned is that good partnership working takes time. Often it is about being on a journey for the long haul. Critical also has been our teams on the ground, working with local people who know the area and who understand the connections”.
More important clues here.
So what is the solution? How do we stop wasting so much taxpayers’ money, spraying resources at problems down these outdated silos with little care for the long term? If as parents we gave up on our children at the age of three, on the basis that three years should be old enough to deliver sustainable transformation, they would not reach adulthood and the evaluation would show that our method of procreation was clearly flawed and that we should stop. Yet the state is getting away with this and none of the present people putting themselves forward to lead this country seems to have even noticed the problem. Maybe because many of our political leaders are living their lives in the Westminster bubble and have little practical experience on the ground, and are aided and abetted by the media, they are asking the wrong questions or no questions at all about these important matters. Thus they are being found out by the electorate, who experience every day these realities.
We have seen clear clues as to what must be done. The 10 principles for successful regeneration are set out in the report and can be applied anywhere. Local leaders need to stop waiting and blindly following central government; they need to be encouraged to be bold and back the stones that roll locally. The clues are in the micro: stop looking upwards, look outwards. The Seaminster story is full of clues. It is organic, it is all about people and relationships and it is about partnerships. It is long term.
Finally, it is time to get practical, generate a culture that learns by doing, dump lots of ideology that does not work in practice and back a new generation of entrepreneurs in our coastal towns. It is time to understand, get inside these communities and let a thousand flowers bloom.
My Lords, I, too, am pleased to congratulate the members of the Select Committee on producing such an excellent, coherent and well-argued report. I commend especially my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton for the brilliant way in which he introduced this debate. I particularly commend the committee for getting such excellent coverage in local and regional media as it went around the country. Coverage of that sort for a Select Committee inquiry reflects well on your Lordships’ House. I must also thank the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, for providing the note that appears on page 45 of the report, in which he kindly refers to the second book on post-Beeching railway politics which I co-wrote with my friend and colleague from British Rail days, Chris Austin, entitled Disconnected!—Broken Links in Britain’s Rail Policy.
I wholeheartedly support the committee’s conclusion in paragraph 123 that states:
“Inadequate transport connectivity is holding back many coastal communities and hindering the realisation of their economic potential. Emphasis should be accorded to isolated coastal communities which are at ‘the end of the line’”.
When I saw that in the report, I looked forward to the Government’s response and hoped to read a commitment that they would support the reopening of some rail lines to seaside towns and the improvement of services where they still exist. I regret that the Government’s response falls well short of any commitment of that sort. I agree with my noble friend Lady Bakewell that it is a feeble response.
It is worth recalling that scores of Britain’s seaside towns owed their existence to the arrival of the railway in the 19th century. A combination of dramatically improved journey times from the great conurbations and the introduction of paid holidays for factory workers led to the transformation of small fishing villages into immensely popular holiday destinations. Up to the mid-1960s, every one was linked to the railway and, until the arrival of widespread car ownership, depended on it for a large part of their annual holiday traffic.
The railway companies ran hundreds of seaside special trains on summer Saturdays, and this continued until the arrival on the scene of Dr Beeching in 1961 as chairman of British Railways with a remit to eliminate so-called “loss-making” services. The seaside towns fared particularly badly under Beeching. Although the summer Saturday specials were immensely popular, they were expensive to run and tied up the railways’ resources, as the carriages that made up the trains were used on perhaps only a couple of dozen times a year, and were left in sidings for the rest of the time. A more imaginative management approach now would resolve that.
In researching the earlier book that I wrote with Chris Austin, Holding the Line—How Britain’s Railways Were Saved, I came across at the National Archives a secret memorandum to the Cabinet dated
“Few of them receive large numbers of visitors by rail... As more families acquire cars, any loss of visitors which holiday resorts experience as a result of the closing of their stations is likely to be compensated for by the increasing numbers arriving by car, and the effect of the closures on hotels and employment in these places is expected to be negligible in relation to other normal fluctuations in the number of visitors they receive. We do not think, therefore, that holiday resorts need to be considered a special case”.
What a pity that Lord Blakenham’s committee did not have access to the wisdom contained in this Select Committee inquiry, nor a little foresight into how, within 40 years, the railways would come into their own again, doubling their passenger numbers, revitalising communities where services were improved and making a serious contribution to reducing carbon emissions.
There were some astonishingly short-sighted closures, and the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, refers to a number of them in his note on page 45 of the report. I was particularly interested to see the picture of Whitby station on page 42, with the somewhat understated caption:
“Coastal towns in rural areas, such as Whitby, often suffer from infrequent rail services”.
Last month, I raised the inadequacy of the current Middlesbrough to Whitby service in an exchange on an Oral Question from the noble Lord, Lord Beith, and in a Written Question. Currently, there are only four trains a day, with no early train from Whitby and no evening train back from Middlesbrough, except on summer Fridays. I understand that the community rail partnership has offered funding for more services, but Northern Railway has so far not taken it up. In her Written Answer of
“Northern is currently working with Network Rail to look at the feasibility of running an earlier service from Whitby to Middlesbrough from December 2019”.
I should tell your Lordships how badly Whitby was let down in the 1960s by first the Conservative and then Labour Governments. At the time of Beeching, Whitby had three services: the line to Pickering and Malton, which linked with the main route from Scarborough to York; a service along the coast to Scarborough; and the Esk Valley line north to Middlesbrough. Beeching had proposed the withdrawal of all three passenger services, and BR issued formal closure notices in February 1963. North Riding County Council co-ordinated the opposition, helped by the local weekly newspaper, the Whitby Gazette, whose front page carried reports about the closures almost every week in 1964 and into the early part of 1965—often there was nothing else on the front page.
The Spa Pavilion in Whitby was the venue for two days of public hearings on 8 and
There were two more twists in the story. The first was the position taken by the Labour Party in opposition as the 1964 general election approached. Harold Wilson told a meeting in Liverpool—and it was later confirmed in the election manifesto—that, if elected, Labour would halt the main programme of rail closures. In a letter to the chairman of the Scarborough and Whitby Labour Party dated
The second twist came when, with Labour in power, the Government fell back on a provision in the Transport Act 1962 which said that they could not halt closures which had already been decided. The National Archives contains a paper, also marked secret, presented to the Cabinet in March 1965 by the Transport Minister, Tom Fraser, which argued that the programme of closures should go ahead more or less unmodified, despite the clear 1964 manifesto pledge to halt it, and that efforts to amend the 1962 Act to rescind previously announced closures should be resisted. The final words in Fraser’s paper were “I recommend we stand firm”. That is the reason why the majority of the Beeching closure proposals, including scores of lines serving seaside towns, went ahead between 1964 and 1970.
There are a small number of seaside resorts which have benefited from the activities of volunteers who have managed to reopen their lines as heritage railways and linked them to the main network. I should declare my interest as president of the Heritage Railway Association. For example, Whitby is served by four trains a day in the summer from Pickering on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. A main line connection to Taunton has been restored by the West Somerset Railway which goes to Minehead. The Swanage Railway has been linked to the main line at Wareham, and heritage trains continue to run to Kingswear from Paignton. These all make a great contribution to the tourist economies in each of the areas they serve and bring thousands of visitors and holiday-makers to the seaside towns, but they cannot provide the seven-days-a-week, year-round service which they would have had if the lines had not been closed and had stayed as part of the national network. As the note by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, on page 45 points out, Cornwall and Lincolnshire,
“appear to be at a particular disadvantage from the impact of rail closures. Significant rail enhancement would assist connectivity to these areas for both … residents and tourists”.
I wholeheartedly agree, and I commend the work of the Select Committee.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. The House should know that there has been no choreography between his speech and mine, but he referred to the 2,260 objectors to the closure of the Whitby lines and I was one of them. I attended each day of the hearing of the Transport Users Consultative Committee in the Spa theatre in Whitby. I shall not repeat the history of what happened, but I agree with the conclusion reached by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, that for many seaside towns the closure of their railway lines mattered to their economic livelihood.
This has been a wide-ranging debate, inevitably reflecting the differences between large towns with universities and much smaller towns with less varied economies. I was not a member of the Select Committee, but my interest in putting my name down to speak stems from my formative years in a seaside town: Whitby. I am glad the committee paid it a visit. I go to Whitby regularly to visit and have been much impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit which has seen Whitby manage change over the decades from a visitor economy which was mostly dependent on week-long or fortnight-long seaside holidays to one in which shorter breaks themed as specialist weeks or weekends and day trips have become much more important. At the same time, the fishing industry has experienced a major downturn, like elsewhere, and yet there has been a resilience in the town and a lot of enterprising initiatives which I hope the committee heard about when it visited.
There are a large number of recommendations to the Government in this report, but inevitably government cannot do everything, so I shall say a brief word about the role of non-governmental organisations. First, I highlight the important role of the private sector in investing to expand local businesses, building on local products and local skills. It is partly a function of local enterprise partnerships, but I suggest that chambers of commerce could have a role in identifying what those development opportunities might be.
Then there are organisations, such as English Heritage, which through their publicity can help to market a place, not just themselves. In the case of Whitby this has been done particularly well, but there are many examples. There is then the Arts Council. I am very grateful for a very lengthy briefing it sent to those who were going to speak. It was instructive to read about the significant contribution the Arts Council has been making to seaside communities and that that contribution has been increasing. I am particularly pleased by the number of projects under its national portfolio and the budget that it has been able to support, so I simply say, “Let us have more of that”.
There is then the voluntary sector. Here I go back to railways. The creation and success of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway is an exceptional achievement that has been delivered with the vision and determination of a lot of local people following the Beeching closures. It demonstrates what can be done by local people.
There are then television and broadcasting companies which through drama productions can reinforce the attractiveness of a place to visit. I think of “Heartbeat”, but there are others which promote an area to encourage people to visit.
In the end, places must evaluate their strength and opportunities and propose actions through their local enterprise partnership for government and an English tourist board to build on.
On the issue of broadband, a number of points have been made about access to broadband. There is no doubt that what the committee’s report says is true. It is the case that business start-up rates are lower in coastal areas, so important recommendations are made. I observe that Cornwall, which has had Objective 1 status for 20 years, has much better broadband access. We now need a solution by place just as Cornwall has had. What will the Government do for other coastal areas to replicate what has been achieved for Cornwall? It requires planning.
I now move to funding issues. First, there is a three paragraph response from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in the Government’s reply which talks about the next two years of local government spending and how priorities will be assessed. Many of these seaside areas are run by district councils. County councils will have the greatest funding pressures through the burden of adult social care and support for children’s services, which are two major pressure points. As district councils are responsible for most seaside towns—some are unitaries, but most are not—I would like to hear from the Minister exactly how the Government plan to address their funding.
That brings me to the shared prosperity fund. Paragraph 29 of the Government’s reply says:
“Details of the operation and priorities of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund are due to be announced following the Spending review which will take place later in the year”.
So far, so good. The problem here is that there are strong rumours that there will be no spending review this autumn and that it will be deferred for a further year. If the Minister is in a position to give us any further update on that, it would be helpful. The shared prosperity fund is an urgent issue for councils—and, if they are to administer the fund, local enterprise partnerships as well—as they need to understand the level of funding that they will get. I recognise that the Government have attempted to address some funding issues for coastal areas through the Coastal Communities Fund, the Coastal Revival Fund and coastal community teams. All these things help, but they are not a replacement for mainstream departmental funding.
That takes me to the Department for Transport’s cost-benefit ratios. I might be misremembering, but I think that Scarborough Borough Council claimed that the DfT fails to take into account seasonal variations in its formulae for leisure travel. That strikes me as an important consideration because places that are already strong tend to end up with a better cost-benefit ratio, as the gain will be quicker and faster and that of course appeals to the Treasury. Therefore, any comment that the Minister can give us on how the DfT allocates money will be helpful. Indeed, the Government’s response says that a rebalancing toolkit is being applied by the Department for Transport. If the Minister can say anything about what has been achieved with that toolkit, that too will be helpful.
I was going to talk about the housing issue and the local housing allowance, but the noble Lord, Lord Best, has done such a magnificent job on it that I cannot add anything. I hope that the wording I see in the Government’s response means that they plan to do something about that.
Finally, I want to say a word on educational provision. We must note the lower achievement in coastal communities at key stage 4. That has the impact of lowering aspiration and engagement in higher education. I used to work for the Open University. We did a lot of work in supporting students in the more geographically remote areas. Access to higher education in coastal areas has been affected by the worrying fall in part-time study since 2011-12. Therefore, the committee’s recommendation for more flexible approaches and flexible access to online, part-time and distance learning has to be part of the solution. In the words of the Open University, it is essential for future regeneration that local people do not have to “leave to learn”.
There has been quite a lot of discussion about place-based planning. I want to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. I think that he concluded by saying, “Let’s deliver a place-based approach”. It is terribly important to have said that because when you have departments that are based effectively in London operating with local enterprise partnerships, no government offices, and the silo workings of Whitehall, which the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, talked about, these things matter. Each place is different; they are not all the same, with the same problems and the same solutions. Therefore, the Government have to organise the targeted interventions that we need and deliver effective cross-departmental working, and I hope that we will hear from the Minister that they will do just that.
I begin by adding my congratulations to my “roomie”, my noble friend Lord Bassam, and his committee members on producing a fine, comprehensive and compelling report. The coverage it has received is due testament to its quality, and the Government’s response has shown consideration but a certain lack of commitment in addressing the proposals that it raises.
There is much to be done in these communities, left behind as they have been, and the report suggests that there is no single solution to their circumstances. The committee has identified some helpful themes to assist in finding solutions, including, as we have heard, superfast broadband, education facilities, infrastructure connections, affordable and good-quality housing and transport for post-16s. Seaside towns are places to live, work and play. All of life is here but the opportunities are somewhat lacking.
The UK’s economy is changing faster than at any time previously and this impacts on seaside towns on top of the demographic changes that have already brought about their disadvantaged circumstances. The seaside holiday is largely a thing of the past, as we all seek reliably warmer climates for our annual break. Shipyards and factories no longer close for a fortnight in the summer, unless it is unplanned, as was the case recently with car plants in the pre-Brexit trauma associated with diesel. We, and seaside towns, are becoming an almost universally service economy, as the former hardware store has become a cafe, the banks have become restaurants, and what was once a small industrial estate is now a hairdresser and a nail bar. The move away from a producer to a service economy is felt by seaside towns as much as anywhere.
In the committee’s report, and in particular in the Government’s response, a plethora of different initiatives is referenced as sources of funds and ideas for regeneration: the Coastal Communities Fund, tourism action zones, the local government finance settlement, the Department for Transport, the Stronger Towns Fund, travel packs for 16 and 17 year-olds, and the high street task force. All have a contribution to make but there seems to be one omission that I want to talk about, and that is the Big Local. I want to explain its impact on the place next to where I live—central Whitley Bay.
The Big Local initiative began in 2009. It identified about 100 places, or communities, that could benefit from financial input to stimulate community regeneration. These were not whole towns or cities; rather, they were localised parts of places where deprivation levels were high on all indicators. One million pounds would be available to each of these Big Locals over a 10-year period to activate local people to identify issues and find solutions to the problems. The initiative established four target outcomes for them: that they should be better able to identify target needs and take action in response to them; that people should have increased skills and confidence to continue to be able to respond to needs in the future; that a community should make a difference to the needs it identifies; and that people should feel that theirs is a better place to live.
There were not, and are not, many rules relating to the Big Local, other than that local people must be in charge and responsible for identifying issues and solutions. In Whitley Bay a fledgling group of local citizens came together and committed to research the issues that concerned local people and what they could do about them. Eventually this became the Big Local plan and in 2012 they were ready to begin work on implementing it. Broadly, they divided into two streams of work—one to do with the people and the other to do with the place.
People initiatives were based on working with people and included: setting up the Big Local shop, described as a portal for social inclusion; an annual carnival celebrating all that is life in Whitley Bay, annually bringing thousands of visitors to the town; and Small Sparks, a small grant scheme to help local people with ideas that will improve their area, such as planting and so on, on a small level.
For places they used a local landscape architect pro bono to produce an environmental master plan, using visuals to show local people and others what their area could look like if the streets and seafront were improved. These were often based on low-cost initiatives, such as changing street furniture, co-ordinated colour schemes, areas for planting and improving local parks. Now, six years on, the plan sets a context for improvements funded by both the Big Local and the local authority
The Whitley Bay Big Local coincides with the local authority committing to major infrastructure projects such as the Spanish City on the seafront, which incidentally was an iconic place in Mark Knopfler’s childhood but had become dilapidated and abandoned since the 1970s. The Big Local has good relations with other agencies. The North Tyneside authority has been very supportive but not intrusive; senior officers and members have provided information and engaged in dialogue. At regular strategic partnership meetings, the Big Local meets with local authority, police, health service providers et cetera.
Other community organisations provide a range of services and support to the Big Local. Citizens Advice, Barnardo’s, SALTo arts group and a local credit union have all supported initiatives or provided advice when it has been sought. This is groundbreaking community regeneration, which puts people at the decision-making and action centre of addressing the issues of their communities. In central Whitley Bay a corner has been turned; local people confirm that it is a better place to live and to visit. The regeneration continues and will continue to benefit the community. The Whitley Bay Big Local has recently registered as a charity and is in the process of planning for when the funding from the community fund may run out.
I never thought I would say this, but it is to David Cameron’s credit that he committed to this initiative and recognised that solutions to problems can and should be found by those who have most to gain from them: people living in local communities. I am grateful to Simon Underwood and Alan Dickinson from the Whitley Bay Big Local for meeting me in preparation for these remarks. I have a couple of questions for the Minister. First, is he aware of the work of the Big Locals and, if so, why was it omitted from the response to the report? Secondly, it seems that funding for the Big Locals by the community fund will run out in three years’ time. Is there any chance that this could be continued?
“Life is gay in Whitley Bay” was a slogan used to promote the place in the 1960s. I do not know about that, but a lot of pride has certainly been restored to the place.
My Lords, under the enthusiastic and committed chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Bassam, assisted by high-calibre clerking and expert advice, this committee delivered a strong challenge to the Government to unify and target their assistance to our coastal communities. Some that we looked at, such as Brighton, Margate and Folkestone, had made a good start on reinventing themselves after the decline of their traditional tourism and other industries. But the picture was patchy and uneven, and such national and regional support as there was seemed not fully to take into account either the main potential assets of being coastal or its structural disadvantages. The seaside does indeed have unique assets, as my noble friend Lord Bassam said. The report has focused on the potential for tourism, and this is certainly one.
I recall the words of the late Lord Rees-Mogg—I do not often quote him, I know—in a seminal article in the Economist when he was editor. He said:
“The arts are to Britain as sunshine is to Spain”.
That is to say, we do not have the predictable sunshine which drew so many British tourists to the Costa Brava when cheap flights became available, fuelling much of the downturn for south-coast resorts, but we do have an asset—I say this following the inspirational remarks of my noble friend Lady Bakewell—which continues to draw visitors from all over the world: our arts and our heritage. The Arts Council is well seized of the point that enhancing the cultural offer is an ingredient of economic growth but it was our view that other public funding streams, some large, some small—arguably too small—should, apart from being better co-ordinated, take better cognisance of this element.
The sea confers other prospects for growth. I applaud the work of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, with Fleetwood. Ports and all the ancillary tasks that support shipping and sailing are key to trade. We are a trading and exporting nation and have been so since the Beaker people came over from the European mainland to contribute their desirable tools and artefacts. We have continuously evolved skills in marine cluster capacity, we are very well placed to lead in environmental energy of all kinds on our shores, and we can mine the minerals of the sea as well as fish from its depths. But we do not lead in energy nearly enough.
We have lost out to competition from nations with better-supported industries and have not targeted our economic planning to develop our coastal towns to get there. There are declining ports all over the UK, some of which combined tourism with the fascination of a working port. I think of Ramsgate, at least as charming as regency Brighton in its smaller way, which has lost much of its port capacity and not had the cultural investment which has so improved Margate and Folkestone. Yet it once combined a busy port with an active and popular visitor economy. My own nearest town, Newhaven—I declare unremunerated interests as president of the coastal communities team and patron of various local entities—was once a most fashionable departure point for the continent, as well as a busy manufacturing town. I should add that the regeneration it is now undertaking has a large, locally owned cultural element.
What is it that continues to impair the resurgence of so many coastal towns? I think there is at least one underlying answer, and several contributory ones. The underlying factor is the transport problem, referred to so eruditely by my noble friend Lord Faulkner. The seaside has only half the circumference of towns in the interior, and this has never properly been compensated for. Good connectivity of all kinds is essential for trade and optimal transport, for the movement of goods and people. Earlier Beeching cuts and omission from mainline direct routes, the decline of bus transport and insufficient broadband capacity have all contributed to decline.
Our report covers several contributory factors and of these I would single out two which would make a substantial difference, with knock-on good effects, both relating to quality: better built environments and better education. The importance of the built environment in attracting investment, as well as enhancing the lives of its inhabitants, cannot be overestimated. Our seaside towns have suffered from planning—or, rather, the hollowing-out of planning capacity—which has often made them ugly. The quality of housing has been poor and the public realm has been impoverished. The middle management and technical personnel which durable investment needs do not want to move to unattractive places, and there is a resulting lack of demand for better services.
The higher skills which could retain those advanced industries that the coast needs, and has the raw materials for, have not been made a feature in those towns where they could be of most benefit. Young people have left to pursue tertiary education for better-remunerated work and have not come back. Too many of those who remained, often fond of their seaside, have put up with lower-quality jobs or unemployment. It all adds up to a great missed opportunity. We have recommended properly targeted public support at national and local level, which recognises at last the unique potential of our seaside towns, enhances their attractiveness, and gets them growing again.
How have the Government risen to this challenge? Their response is, as far as it goes, positive. They acknowledge the potential and the missed opportunities. I think they have focused rather narrowly on the former tourist resorts, in the work on population transience, for instance. In general, there is not enough of the targeted approach which would really transform the assets and the disadvantages of being on the coast. One size does not fit all. Towns such as Whitehaven need their own kind of support, at least as much as the resorts of the south. Perhaps this will develop, as the most welcome undertakings to reinstate the cross-Whitehall meetings on coastal communities and the new high street task force get going.
Finally, the Department for Education needs to be especially welcoming to educational provision aimed at lifting those skills levels and fostering, in particular, high- level attainments which relate to maritime potential. Also, transport connectivity in and out of seaside towns needs a special analysis and action programme. This would have a ready welcome in these needlessly suffering communities. Can the Minister assure us of these measures?
My Lords, it was a pleasure to be on this committee. We looked at a wide range of issues and there was always constructive debate, ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam.
Flaubert’s Madame Bovary says:
“Doesn’t it seem to you … that the mind moves more freely in the presence of that boundless expanse of sea, that the sight of it elevates the soul and gives rise to thoughts of the infinite?”
We were reminded in our committee visits of the beauty of the British coastline, and the variety of our seaside towns, which all have the potential to be enriching places to live. But these places, far from Westminster, suffer particularly from our overcentralised bureaucracy. Most have multiple challenges which are ill served by a central government that finds cross-departmental working awkward. At its worst, well intended government departments come up with short-term and siloed approaches to problems which they do not fully understand.
That is why I am a strong advocate of more strategic and planned relationships between towns and central government. In the report, we suggested that this might take the form of town deals—mutual agreements to tackle complex challenges over the long term. These should be based on town leadership, which draws on the different perspectives and skills of the private, public and voluntary sectors. Indeed, I have spent the past two years working on behalf of Business in the Community in Blackpool, creating just such an approach, so I feel particularly qualified to comment on that town.
I have another quote, this one from “Albert and the Lion”:
“There’s a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
That’s noted for fresh air and fun”— and that still applies. The resort has 18 million visitors a year, a new five-star hotel, the UK’s first double-launch rollercoaster, a fantastic tram service and a hotel where Elvis Presley never leaves the building—not to mention the Blackpool Tower and “Strictly Come Dancing”, too.
However, Blackpool also has the greatest concentration of deprivation in England. There are more looked-after children than anywhere else; secondary school ratings are significantly below average; and the male suicide rate is the highest in the country. It is not that people are born deprived; many locals live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. It is because around 5,000 people every year arrive to live in slum conditions in the inner area. Let me tell you who the tenants are—mostly from Wigan, in this case—of just one building that I visited recently, where the police have been called 130 times so far this year. One is a heavy drinker. Three have serious mental health problems. There are five empty flats: one tenant is currently in mental hospital; two flats await someone from prison and a local hostel; one was deserted by a Liverpool family, who left all the children’s belongings; one was raided for drugs; one has a tenant on remand for armed robbery. This level of support through social services, the hospitals and the police is simply unsustainable.
Housing benefit of over £80 million a year is spent in this area, allowing landlords to make returns of up to 20% by housing the nation’s most vulnerable. There is no limit to the number of people housed and no quality control beyond fire and safety hazards. People who arrive with little hope, separated from their local support network, end up with less. So let me suggest some specific areas where joined-up government could help.
First, the Department for Work and Pensions could pay housing benefit at a rate that corresponds to the quality of accommodation, and refuse to pay for homes that are below any sense of common decency. I hear many arguments about why this is impossible but, as we heard earlier from my noble friend Lord Best, one solution is to shrink the area over which local housing allowance is set.
Secondly, if primary legislation is required to solve this problem, so be it. But at the very least, might the Government consider some sort of housing zone for the inner area of Blackpool—with the most concentrated deprivation in England—where, over 10 years, we could together work through how to tackle the issues there? Beyond the housing issue, there is a planned £300 million regeneration project at the Central Station site, where everyone bar the law courts has agreed to move off the site.
Thirdly, the leases are finishing on several local government buildings. Their activities could be combined in a proposed civil service hub for thousands of jobs, which would provide year-round footfall for the local high street. But the big prize for Blackpool would be a town deal, so that we can support economic development and sort out the chronic housing situation.
Let me return to some other issues, shared by seaside towns, where co-ordinated government action could help. The opportunity areas could last for much longer, giving them time to nurture the skills and well-being of young people who lack confidence and resilience. Transience is a common factor, and I welcome the Government’s commitment to investigate its cause and effect. Finally, investing in digital connectivity could compensate for physical isolation and enable our coastal towns to flourish as the new meccas for a healthy work/life balance.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of this committee and pay tribute to its chairman, the other members and the clerks and advisers who have assisted us. It has been a united group and this is no minority report. There is also unity in debate today. I want to be the ninth person to mention Blackpool this evening but I have, as a declaration of interest, to let your Lordships know that I am a director of the Cober Hill guest house in Cloughton, Scarborough—this is just to balance the other side of the Pennines, along with the other two Yorkshire speakers.
The report was published on
We had the tremendous good fortune to make our various visits, and to see success and sadness. This report is evidence-based, and issues of concern were tourism, the public realm, the wider economy beyond tourism, ports, transport, the digital economy, education in schools, further and higher education, housing, health, coastal erosion and flooding, and the end of the line, not just for the railway—if it exists—but for other factors.
I will endeavour to summarise what other noble Lords have said a little. We had a splendid introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, had the idea of seaside zones. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, built on the introduction and referred to coastal erosion. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, as a Peer was concerned about piers, as well as education. The noble Lord, Lord Best, gave a detailed account of why our recommendations on housing should be supported. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, talked of his family story, quality of life and education. The noble Lord, Lord Beith, referred to the coast in his former constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and the whole business of local government and its expenditure. The noble Baroness, Lady Wyld, spoke about Blackpool and Fleetwood, the doctor we met in Fleetwood who was doing such good work, and empowerment and education.
The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, spoke of his time in east Kent. Interestingly, he mentioned the idea of a Cabinet post for tourism. Tourism and the seaside are clearly linked, so it makes one wonder. So much of what has been said today has been about coastal towns and the seaside specifically, yet the Government response has been, “It’s just another part of everything else we do”. The noble Lord, Lord Mawson, spoke about nous—I am rather in favour of that—and getting away from the Westminster bubble.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, now a Deputy Speaker, spoke from his other place about railways and commended the part that I, happily, put into the report. I was particularly interested in his story about the Whitby lines. I can also say that the former Liberal candidate for Scarborough and Whitby, Richard Rowntree, who fought the seat twice in the 1960s, was firm in his support for those railways. That we now have one of the most successful heritage railways, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, is down to what Richard Rowntree got up to after standing down as Liberal candidate for Scarborough and Whitby.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, also spoke about Whitby and his involvement there, the role of NGOs and, again, concern about local government and a place-based approach. The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, told us about Big Local and referred to Whitley Bay. I recall going on a school trip to Whitley Bay as a teenager, so it is interesting to learn what is happening there now. I remember sailing down the Tyne, and then getting on a double-decker bus to Whitley Bay, where we had fish and chips. The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, spoke of the strong challenge we set, referred to her work in Newhaven, and ports and transport, including the humble bus. The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, spoke about short-termism and referred a lot to her work in Blackpool. She gave a vivid reflection of what she had seen in Blackpool and heard about in a building there, HMO deprivation and the Government taking life slowly with the court premises that may be moved in the centre of Blackpool.
The government response, regrettably, is selective. Rather than saying that they agree or do not agree with these proposals, it is more a musing on what our report said. The response does not say that the Government highly agree with this and disagree with that. There is no real clarity. There is one point of clarity, which has been referred to a couple of times. The committee referred to the cross-Whitehall official-level meeting, which the Government said they agree with, but that is no wonder given that this was a full toss given to us by the government Minister, who had gleaned that this cross-departmental working was closed down four years ago. No wonder the Government now come back saying that they will reinstate it. How splendid, after a four-year gap, that the different sections of government are now willing to talk to one another. That is progress.
Almost concurrent with the government response, we have seen the tourism sector deal published. It consists of more musing, including several items suggesting that the private sector is busy at work in the council towns. One item worth mentioning is that a bedroom count has been made showing that 130,000 extra bedrooms are now planned to be built in the next five years, 75% of them outside London. This is expected to provide for a 23% increase in visitors by 2025. This is very useful information.
I said that the government response was selective. Recommendation 54, on page 25 of the report, says:
“It is vital for the future prosperity of smaller seaside resorts that they have the opportunity to benefit from national tourism campaigns, and from nationally provided research and support, to help to develop their tourism products”.
There is no response to that.
Our committee got a pretty poor response from our witnesses representing VisitBritain, and no wonder we got no response from the Government. Happily, we can now look at some of the other figures from the tourism sector deal report. Page 47 of the report says that 35% of Brits—that is how we are all described—holiday at an English seaside destination, according to 2017 figures. That is 35% of the population, not 35% of holidaymakers. However, only 10% of overseas or inbound visitors reach the coast, yet a third of inbound visitors include a visit to a park. What is VisitBritain doing to increase the dismal 10% of overseas visitors who visit the seaside? Can it be persuaded to tell overseas visitors that there is more to the UK than London and Stratford? The hoteliers, whom we have heard about, need some tourism signposting to fill the 75% of the beds that will now be built outside London.
I regard the Government’s response to our report as complacent. The committee report suggests action on several fronts, yet the response is musing. As for the tourism sector deal, there is little new. Tourism deals get a mention. There is a competition, but no word of the prizes, which are to be awarded in March 2020. Mark this however: competitors for the tourism deal are advised that any bid should,
“not require substantial transport infrastructure investment to facilitate”.
Yet we highlighted transport infrastructure as a significant concern in both our evidence-taking and our report.
I have one final thought, particularly now that the Benches opposite have filled up a little. Another competition is going on as we speak: that between Hunt and Johnson. Bearing in mind the promises made by the pair of them daily of extra government resources, should not some noble Lords opposite invite them to the seaside towns or perhaps give Mrs May a late prime ministerial walk on the pier before the farewell expenditure programme is laid?
My Lords, I cannot possibly concur with the idea that those on the Front Benches opposite look in the slightest bit bored; they have shown an alarming interest in everything that has happened up to now—I say that only because I am going to get my blows in in a moment and I want to soften them up. I am truly grateful that this offbeat subject—for it is not central to the thinking of government at this time or in the public domain—has been brought before us in this focused way and for the wide variety of contributions that have added to the interest of the occasion, with many of them being made by members of the committee. Having been born by the sea, I am delighted that the seaside has commanded this level of report and recommendation.
However, I have been struggling for some kind of controlling idea—something that will allow us to pull all these heterogenous things together. When it is the northern powerhouse, we can strategise; we can have the high-speed train going up and the major cities that we want to bring together. We have some idea of gravitas, critical mass, economic goals and so on. We have a strategic idea that allows us to do our thinking. However, when it comes to the scattering of all these seaside communities right around the coast, it is much harder to create a picture of them. The formula-based approach has been referred to more than once, which I guess is what it has to be. Each one will raise its own questions, offer its own possibilities and demand its own attention. I can see things happening only in that sort of way.
Even when we have recognised the difficulty of having a controlling concept, we must then look at the fact that it is not just a question of getting people to come to the seaside for two weeks in August again like it used to be, or even tarting up what was once nicely done and has now fallen into desuetude; it is multifaceted, and the factors will vary place by place.
Certainly, one aspect of this integrated picture that I see for each place will involve transport and broadband. That is mentioned very clearly in the report. I cannot see how there can be a solution to the problems of seaside towns that does not give attention to adequate transport links. I taught in a place called Lampeter, and they shut the railway line—doubtless this Beeching stuff—the minute after I had taken the last train; I could not get home again afterwards. It undoubtedly caused a number of townships to wither away out there in Cardiganshire.
So transport is key and we have to find a way to look at each place and say how the needs of that place are served from the transport point of view. There will be various solutions according to the township, and the same with broadband. It ought to be possible for start-ups to happen in these distant places just as easily as at the Old Street roundabout if broadband is good. My daughter runs a very competent consultative business from the south of France with her computer. Before that she did it in Cambodia, and before that she did it in London. It is the same business—on her lap, at her kitchen table—and she has clients all over the world. So I cannot see why Whitley Bay cannot do the same—or, if I may add my voice to the Blackpool chorus, Blackpool either. They are fundamental, it seems to me, and they are adequately presented in the report.
Similarly, housing has been eloquently attested to by the noble Lord, Lord Best, whom we hear on this subject from time to time, as have health and education. My noble friend Lady Bakewell talked about human capital, about educational needs and skilling people. I had a few remarks to make about the arts, but she said it all so I will not, except that I would like to include in my remarks the fact that Cleveland has a wonderful pier. Shame on her that she did not mention it. Piers are an extraordinary characteristic of our seaside towns that make each one different from every other one. All in all, I would say that we have a collection of seaside towns to rival anywhere in the world. All those aspects are important, as are the private and public financing and support for these things. It is not one or the other; it is both.
It is marvellous that a committee of this House can bring the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord McNally, together in what sounds like an abiding friendship, seeing the world in the same way. If all those aspects are important—and all are mentioned in the report—and if it is difficult to have a controlling idea to hold all that stuff together, we can only pity the Government as they try to respond to all this in a coherent way. I think that there is a lot of good will in the response, but it would perhaps have taken a chapter per town to respond in a way that would have satisfied us. So I do not think that the Minister should have come here expecting to have an easy ride tonight, because he is attempting a very difficult task.
So much for all that. I have to say that I have been confused by all the different initiatives: the Coastal Communities Alliance; the Coastal Culture Network; Creative People and Places; this, that and the other. I do not know how they all work together—I do not know whether they do all work together. I do not know how they outbid one another or compete with one another, or what we can pull from them. Or is it that, as one contributor to this debate said, if they get help from this, it is at the expense of losing something from that?
I was not able, from reading all this stuff, to build my picture. Possibly in my remarks noble Lords are sensing the disaggregation that is the result of my failure to master the brief—but Blackpool certainly stood up and asked to be counted. I do not want to repeat points, but perhaps the Minister would answer the question about the Civil Service jobs in the centre of Blackpool and the Ministry of Justice possibly relocating the courts. If those buildings and operations stand in the way of a potential coherent response to the needs of Blackpool, we should have a response to those questions.
I do not think I have seen it said anywhere, but this report concerns England, does it not? The devolved Governments look after their own stuff, so I am going to introduce something which I may need special pleading for. I sat next to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on the tube and he told me about Fleetwood and the visit he made there. He said that Burry Port is held up by the people of Fleetwood as an example of what can be done. I could not resist the opportunity to say that in this debate.
Burry Port shares many characteristics with Berwick. When I grew up in a brickyard, my neighbours on one side were the smelting companies—zinc, copper, lead and silver—there was a soap factory on the other and there were power stations in front of and behind me. There were endless rows of trucks taking anthracite coal to the docks, where the gantry cranes would load the coastal shipping to all parts of the British Isles. If I were brought up in the same place now, I could see the fishing boat-bobbing sea—it is 200 yards from where I grew up. My dear friends, for anybody who has not been to Burry Port, may that be the one thing you take away from this debate.
Also in that far-flung part of the British Isles, with perhaps more coastline than any other, are Cardiganshire, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. There is also that wonderful educational institution that I have just fallen in love with: the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, which has campuses in Swansea, Lampeter and Carmarthen and incorporates working relationships with further education, skilling people to be beauticians, farmers or craftsmen as well as taking degrees and higher degrees.
Unless we move innovatively towards those co-ordinated and multifaceted responses to these terrible problems of the modern age, which refuse to be captured and defined, we do not have a chance. The seaside towns of our country are a challenge to us. They are an essential characteristic of who and what we are; each demands to be looked at in its own right and we will do ourselves a great service in the eyes of our fellow countrypeople and the world if we can find a solution that brings beauty back to those places that are now faded and speak more of yesterday than today.
My Lords, I am most grateful for the many valuable contributions made today, which highlight how much we all value our coastal towns—whether those in England or more widely, as the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, has just demonstrated—how important it is to ensure that they have the ability to grow and prosper into the 21st century and how we put right some of the things that have certainly gone wrong.
The conversation has been frank and honest, and has given us much to consider. I will ensure that the debate is sent to all relevant departments; as is very clear, this does not just affect the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government—the Ministry of Justice was something I had not foreseen—but it affects so many departments that I will ensure it has a very wide circulation. I will also ensure that anything I am unable to cover or that I miss is covered in a letter to all Peers who have taken part in what has been an excellent debate.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for securing this debate and enabling us to discuss this very important issue, for the obviously consensual way he has ensured that the committee has looked at these issues and for coming forward with a unanimous report, which I am sure makes it the stronger. The work that the noble Lord and his committee have undertaken has been very thorough and highlights the many challenges facing our coastal communities in the 21st century. That is not just true of England; it is equally true of Wales, and I speak with some experience. I probably do not know Burry Port quite as well as the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, but I have certainly spent time in Cliff Terrace with friends and know the town very well. The same is true for Ferryside, which was referred to as well.
The debate has examined many of the challenges and it has been encouraging to hear many positive suggestions. I will set the scene a little and then look at points made by noble Lords. First, it is true that there are, as the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, has just said, many different funds, ensuring that we have funds-a-gogo and programmes-a-gogo to make sure that they all work together, not necessarily in a competitive way but to dovetail together. It is important to have this meeting of all the relevant departments, bringing everything together to see how it all locks together.
We have the stronger towns fund, worth £1.6 billion; a prospectus on this should be available before the recess to show how that is taken forward. We also have the shared prosperity fund; the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked how coastal communities can be involved in that. When we take this forward there will be a wide consultation; we will want people and authorities to consult, and that will certainly include coastal funds. We have enterprise zones, of which there was mention early on. I think my noble friend Lord Smith said there was only one. I hope it was him; if it was not, I ask him to forgive me. There are in fact currently 15 coastal enterprise zones. I have the list here. Although I will refer to them in the course of this debate, rather than go through them all now I will ensure that the names and coverage of all of them are in the write-round letter. We are looking at up to another five as part of the tourism sector deal, which we have just announced. Reference was made to some of them: Berwick-upon-Tweed is covered by one of them, while at the other end of the country Falmouth, which has not been mentioned, is covered by another, and there are many inbetween.
There are local industrial strategies, framed around the work that the local enterprise partnerships are doing, first in the West Midlands and Greater Manchester—I shall ensure that more detail on that is also contained in the letter. The coastal communities fund does great work. Somebody suggested that it was not doing much but that is not true; it has spent £218 million since 2012, and we would be hearing about it if that money had not been well spent. That is in places including Whitley Bay—the Spanish City dome, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, referred, has certainly been a beneficiary. I will deal with his other points later. Money has been spent in Wells-next-the-Sea on restoring the paper mill, and in Penzance on an art deco lido, and so on. There have been beneficiaries throughout the country.
The coastal revival fund is part of this mosaic; £7.5 million has been spent by that fund since 2015, including Jaywick, which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, referred to. At the same time as he was growing up in Clacton I was growing up in Chelmsford, and we might even have been on that beach at the same time during our childhood—a frightening thought—because we often took weekend trips there. I have to say—perhaps to the shame of my parents, although climate change was not so apparent then—that we certainly used the car; presumably the train service was available, but it would have taken a while. Some of this was at least before the Beeching report, let alone the Beeching cuts. Similarly, money has been spent in Watchet in Somerset, where I hope to go this summer as a private citizen—this is not government business—as I want to use the heritage railway there, which runs from just outside Taunton to Minehead. There are many of these railways, which I may refer to later; I share many of the views of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, on that issue.
Town deals have been referred to. Grimsby has had a town deal since July 2018 and is a beneficiary, with money spent on the waterfront. Much has been made, quite rightly, of Blackpool, which perhaps presents some unique challenges. It is perhaps worth restating that our coastal towns all differ from each other. They are not all facing the challenges that Blackpool faces—in fact, only Blackpool is facing those challenges. Many of our coastal towns are thriving. To hear comments about them you would not think that, or would think that they had been ignored. St Ives, Padstow and many of the Cornwall resorts face challenges, but very different ones. They are not challenges of the sort we have seen around housing, and so on, but they are certainly challenges. However, perhaps we have not heard so much about those places, for reasons I can understand. Weymouth and Torbay, as well as Blackpool, are the subject of discussions on strategy and taking things forward. I will come to Weymouth in more detail later. Reference has been made to Margate, which is a bit of a success story, with the Turner gallery and work being done on the harbour area, where the gallery is.
I will make some general comments on housing. I understand the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who understands these things. However, I slightly disagree with him when he says that rogue landlords are essentially reactive. In one sense they are, but if a clear message goes out that we are going to deal with rogue landlords, it becomes proactive, so it depends on which end of the telescope you are looking through. Therefore, I do not entirely agree with his point. Housing zones beneficiaries are Poole, Weston-super-Mare and Thurrock, which covers Tilbury, and North East Lincolnshire, which covers Grimsby and Wirral.
Planning and flooding have been referred to. Beneficiaries of work on this include Newhaven, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker referred. LEPs have been working on this with government money in Snape Maltings, the Fylde peninsula and in the Blackpool area.
Education was generally referred to and we have 12 opportunity areas, specifically targeting policies relating to social mobility. I think that that includes Blackpool—if I am mistaken I will correct it in the write-round letter—but it certainly includes West Somerset, Scarborough and Hastings.
Transport was a common theme. I accept its importance and will come to that when I turn to specific comments, if I may.
Some noble Lords, but not many—the noble Lord, Lord Knight, did—mentioned the need to adapt and change. Perhaps this is agreed by all noble Lords, but it did not come across quite like that; it is no good trying to turn the clock back and recreate Blackpool as it was in the 1970s or, as I think a noble Lord said, the 1950s. That will not work. We must take it forward and think about what Blackpool needs to look like in the middle of this century.
Let me try to deal with some of the points made. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for his general comments about the Government, at least in part, being supportive. On the cross-Whitehall front, I do not yet have a date for the first meeting, but I will try to nail that down in the letter, because it is important that cross-Whitehall meetings happen frequently.
My noble friend Lord Smith referred to the importance of the tourism sector and tourism enterprise zones, and I hope that I touched on that. He highlighted the importance of New Brighton, which has indeed received some money—for the lighthouse, if I am not mistaken—from the coastal communities fund. I will confirm that in the letter.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, spoke of the importance of Blackpool and Fleetwood, and I agree with both those points. He talked about transformative actions such as the Turner gallery in Margate, flood defences in Clacton, the Tate in St Ives and the need for public-private partnerships. I agree with all that: this is the only way this will work. I take very seriously his admonition for action this day—that is absolutely right.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about the importance of education. I quite agree. She talked about Skegness and the importance of transport. We have given £4 million-worth of government money to enhance bus services, and I shall provide details in the letter. She also rightly talked about the importance of wi-fi. I know from the Welsh experience how important that is. I know the success in Cornwall and have often said: “Why don’t we just do what Cornwall has done?” There they have spent money and it has worked. I hope that some of the shared prosperity money will be used for that. Specifically, some money is being used and I will come to that later.
The noble Baroness spoke about the Pier of Year—as in a pier that goes into the sea rather than a Peer from this House. I absolutely agree with the points she made about Clevedon; I will also put in a plea for Cromer and Great Yarmouth, which are also very good. There are piers around the country. Indeed, there is a book on British piers which is well worth reading and having as a guide to those that may have been missed.
On art galleries, I agree. There is a string of them on the south coast. Something that occurs to me, to which I do not have the answer because it occurred to me only this morning, but I have asked civil servants to look at this, is that these days, because it is very important, we have arts festivals around the country. If I am not mistaken, nearly all seem to be inland, such as in Cheltenham, Oxford or Hay. I am obviously not right. I have asked civil servants to look at this. There may be opportunities for others. I can think of some smaller ones.
I thank the noble Baroness, but I was not saying that in the hope of getting an invitation. It is most kind. If I am able to come, I will be there—and if any other invitations are forthcoming, I will look at them in the same positive spirit. I apologise to any towns that may be offended by my missing their coastal arts festivals. I was aware that there are festivals in other parts of the country, such as Whitby and Brighton, although perhaps they are not as all-encompassing as those of Cheltenham, Chalke Valley and so on.
I have already referred to a point where I am not in total agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Best. He quite fairly said, though, that we have been taking action against rogue landlords: bad landlords are now subject to the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act. That was the Karen Buck legislation, which was taken forward with government support and all-party approval. I will ask officials to look at the specific point he made about Blackpool. I can see the challenge, there, if it takes in areas that are perhaps wealthier, such as Lytham.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, referred to Fergus’s school reunion—or non-school reunion, as it turned out. As somebody who has holidayed in Weymouth, I was a little surprised—but perhaps I have been seeing it in warm weather, which always makes a difference. When I was there for a few days last summer, the harbour area seemed to be full of young people. I made use of the walk along the disused railway that goes down to Portland Bill, and the place seemed to be thriving; but obviously, I have seen only a snapshot. Perhaps I will have a chance for a longer chat with the noble Lord. I agree with his points about education and the importance of skills. It occurred to me that we do not do enough in this country on the transferability of credits, when compared with the USA—or, indeed, credits for work, which make a difference too. There is perhaps more to be done there. I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of a place-based approach.
The noble Lord, Lord Beith, is a great advocate for his home town, which he represented, along with other towns, for so long. He is quite right that this is not just about tourism. He talked about the lack of a university in Berwick, which is certainly true. There are no perfect parallels, but it occurs to me that it may be worth looking at the university in Falmouth, which operates partly alongside the University of Exeter. It has been a university since 2012 and has really made a big difference to Falmouth. I will be there later this week when I go down to Cornwall. The noble Lord is also right about the issues of remoteness, hospitals and so on.
My noble friend Lady Wyld spoke once again about Blackpool and, indeed, Fleetwood. She made a point which is really important—that what we should be doing is looking at doers, not the done-to. I think that is the governmental approach: it is the approach on neighbourhood planning, and we should be carrying that forward here. Governments should be enabling: they should be setting a framework and providing finance to people locally who are trusted—and then we should step back. There may be occasions when things go wrong, but they are going wrong with people who are expert and know what they are doing locally, and I think that that is important. We should be empowering, not micromanaging.
The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, spoke about Broadstairs and Ramsgate—a somewhat remote part of Kent, although Broadstairs has Dickens connections, so some ideas may already have been taken up locally there. He talked about the challenge of overseas travel, which certainly made a difference to the traditional seaside holidays that we can probably all remember from our younger days. Now we are much more widely travelled in Europe, which has made a big difference to the normal holiday—although people do go for long weekends, particularly in the winter months. We need to look at that particular point. The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, also raised the issue of a Cabinet post for tourism. It is well above my pay grade to opine on that, especially at the moment, but I will take the point back: I can see that it was a serious and valid one.
The noble Lord, Lord Mawson, also referred to the doers and not the done-to, and the importance of the Government being enablers. He referred to Skegness, Butlins and the seasonal nature of much of the work. I agree that that is a challenge that we have got to deal with: it has got to be fundamental to the way we take this forward. The noble Lord talked about Ferryside in Wales; I am sorry to spoil the point about Burry Port being such a success, but I should say that, although the Coastal Communities Fund is a national fund, the parts of it that apply to Wales are administered not from here but from Cardiff, just as they would be administered from Edinburgh in Scotland. He said, “Trust them and back them”, and I quite agree.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. I found myself in almost total agreement with him, as I often do, about Beecham. When one is asked about who one would invite to a dinner party, I often think that I would ask Lord Beecham just to find out what possessed him to come up with his cuts.
I agree with the point about the Whitby service. Last year, I got to Whitby using public transport from Scarborough. It is an excellent town; I had the pleasure of going to Ayckbourn’s Stephen Joseph Theatre before getting the bus to Whitby, which took me through Robin Hood’s Bay. I then used the heritage line, which was also excellent. I agree that Whitby has been left without a valuable connection to the south. It is worth mentioning how good some of these heritage railways are, such as the line from Cromer and Sheringham to Holt; I think that the Swanage line and the Paignton line, which goes via Greenway House—Agatha Christie’s home and a National Trust property—on the way to Kingswear, were also referred to. They do a lot of good.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, mentioned the heritage railways and Whitby; I congratulate him on not being steeped in blood like everybody else because he was there objecting. He also talked about chambers of commerce, which I will certainly feed into the system. I think that they may be involved with some LEPs anyway, but it is a point worth emphasising. I agree with him on the importance of the voluntary sector and programmes such as “Heartbeat” in providing tourism opportunities. Some £1.8 billion of public money has been put into Digital UK’s superfast broadband programme; I am sure that the shared prosperity fund will look at this issue as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, referred to the position in Whitley Bay and asked about the Big Local. That is funded not by the Government but by the Big Lottery Fund. It is clearly worth while but if the problem continues, that is a matter for the fund. Again, I went to Whitley Bay not long ago on a trip to Tynemouth. I got there by public transport, which was not too difficult; the metro system was pretty excellent.
The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, made a plea for ports. Of course, some ports are successful; not all are in decline. I know that Felixstowe and Tilbury, which is inland—not inland, but on the river—are massively successful. Again, public transport to Tilbury is pretty good but I take the noble Baroness’s point. Newhaven is covered by an enterprise zone, which provides an opportunity for particular policy advantages. I think she mentioned Whitehaven, which does not benefit particularly from tourism. It is good that we do not think only about tourist resorts; I thank her for that point.
The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, spoke about Blackpool and “The Lion and Albert”. From memory, I do not think it ended well for Albert, but we want it to end well for Blackpool. The housing zone is certainly something to look at; the town deal for Blackpool is being looked at. I cannot make any promises about that but I can say that Blackpool is a challenge that the Government take very seriously. It is close to all our hearts; we all know Blackpool, which is uniquely British and certainly worth saving.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, for what he said about VisitBritain. It committed £40 million to the Discover England Fund, whose projects often concern coastal destinations, between 2016 and 2020 so, in its defence, it does quite a lot. We have also spent money on US connections to D-day and the “Mayflower”. I think the noble Lord referred to Mrs May; she holidays in this country, as he will know, on which she is to be congratulated.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, for what he said. I agree that we perhaps need a theme although, as we have seen, this is a wide-ranging area involving a great deal of different policy. I will check on the justice courts in Blackpool. It is a valid point that I will chase up. This is multifaceted. We need to consider the changes there have been in society and carry them forward. We all want the same thing. However, this is multifaceted and I will endeavour in the letter to fill in any gaps.
I thank noble Lords for a valuable debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, who has helped pull it together.
My Lords, I shall not detain the House too long in my summary. I have enjoyed the debate. I have had another run round the coast of England this evening as we have debated the various topics and places that your Lordships have referred to; I enjoyed every speech and contribution.
I make one or two pleas. First, we should look at the seaside and the coastal communities not with a sense of nostalgia but with a sense of an opportunity and as a challenge. That is my first point.
The strength of this report is that everyone in the committee was happy to sign up to it. It is content rich, it is bursting full of ideas and it is not complacent. It makes specific demands of government. The demand we need to reinforce today is this: we cannot ignore the seaside communities as they have been over the past decade since the last report. We need to persist and continue to press the Government. It is for the Government’s own good to keep seaside towns and communities at the forefront of our thinking; otherwise, they will undoubtedly end up as part of the two-speed or three-speed national economy that we have. Seaside towns and communities need to be given special consideration. They need a champion in government, champions in local government and strong advocates to press their case. They are special and unique and bring a richness to our country and our culture which other communities express in entirely different ways.
Colleagues have covered the territory well. Education, housing, art-led regeneration, the need for more entrepreneurship, more vision and better leadership have all been dealt with extremely well in the debate. Government has a challenge here. I shall continue to press the case for our coastal and seaside communities. I have invited the Senior Deputy Speaker to give a role to one of the other committees to follow up on the work we have undertaken over the past year—personally, I think the Economic Affairs Committee would be a good place to start. The measures, proposals and recommendations contained in the report need to be agitated for, pursued and concentrated on over the next months and years. The problems will not go away and they will only get worse if we ignore them.
That said, I thank everyone for their participation in the debate and the Minister for his response, and everyone who has indulged in this important debate and report with good humour and good will.
House adjourned at 9.18 pm.