Future of Seaside Towns - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:51 pm on 1st July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 8:51 pm, 1st July 2019

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.