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

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.