Coastal Communities

Women and Equalities Committee – in Westminster Hall at 3:10 pm on 8th September 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye 3:10 pm, 8th September 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the future of coastal communities.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dr Huq. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on coastal communities, and in my capacity as the MP for the beautiful constituency of Hastings and Rye, I am leading this debate on the future of coastal communities, and I am grateful for the support received from Members on both sides of the House.

Coastal communities are integral to the UK’s environmental, social and economic wellbeing. The covid-19 pandemic profoundly impacted on our coastal communities, exposing and exacerbating long-standing social and economic structural challenges, which need an urgent and co-ordinated response for there to be a sustainable recovery. Coastal communities are also the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with erosion and flooding posing an ever greater threat to both the built and natural environments.

We have long been a proud maritime nation and historically reliant on our coastal communities to help deliver national prosperity, but today too many of them face shared challenges and disproportionately high levels of deprivation. These communities have enormous potential, which can be unleashed with ambitious vision, partnership working and the right investment from both the public and private sectors. Both Labour and Conservative Governments have been alerted to the challenges of coastal communities over the years—lots of reports, but not enough real action.

In 2007, a Communities and Local Government Committee report on coastal towns highlighted the shared characteristics of coastal communities, including poor-quality housing, deprivation, the inward migration of older people, and the nature of coastal economies. The report said that coastal towns have too often been on the margins of central Government regeneration policy, with its focus on inner cities. The report led to the creation of the coastal communities fund.

Later, in 2019, the House of Lords Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities published a report entitled “The future of seaside towns”, highlighting familiar challenges and making a number of recommendations. The challenges highlighted included the lack of transport connectivity, poor education standards and attainment, skill shortages, high levels of population transience and disproportionately high levels of people claiming sickness and disability benefits. The recommendations identified how regeneration could be supported in coastal towns, including through a dedicated source of funding specifically for coastal communities beyond the completion of the coastal communities fund.

We have seen that fund replaced with the UK shared prosperity fund, but it is disappointing that many coastal local authorities, such as Rother District Council and Hastings Borough Council, received the minimum amount of £1 million—a quarter of the amount received by inland Chorley in Lancashire, which received over £4 million, or Cannock Chase, which received over £3 million. Often the funding pots are competitive. The APPG for the south east, which I also chair, published a report this year called “Financing the future—what does levelling up mean for South East England?” One of the report’s recommendations is that levelling up must address the issue of short and long-term local government finance, with an emphasis on certainty and flexibility—not one-off and often competitive funding pots.

To really plan for the future of our coastal communities, we need long-term strategies and locally led plans. Improvements to coastal transport networks and targeted investment for school improvement programmes were also recommended in the Lords Committee report, hence my consistent campaigning for a faster service from London via Ashford, linking Rye, Hastings, Bexhill and Eastbourne not only to each other but to London. That is essential for better connectivity, which will in turn encourage and boost local employment opportunities and economic growth.

I welcome the new education investment area funding for East Sussex—Hastings has been designated a priority education investment area—but we must do more. Education and skills are vital tools in social mobility and are essential for economic wellbeing and social inclusion. It is vital for economic growth that education and skills evolve with the needs of the modern labour market. In that regard, our coastal communities have enormous potential in terms of the green revolution, but they are not being given the focus needed to unleash that potential and become a greater resource for the UK.

In 2020, the Office for National Statistics produced a significant study of coastal communities. It highlighted what we already know about the challenges, including the prevalence of deprivation, slower employment and population growth—even a decline—and an ageing population. A poll commissioned by Maritime UK revealed that coastal communities are set to lose 49% of their young people amid employment concerns. Jobs were cited as the overwhelming reason why Maritime UK and the Local Government Association coastal special interest group jointly published their “Coastal Powerhouse Manifesto” in September last year, urging the Government to form a coherent plan for the coast and highlighting a number of areas in which action must be taken to catalyse investment, level up coastal communities and realise the potential of all the UK’s coastal regions.

To date, coastal regeneration funding has largely focused on heritage, recreational and arts projects. Those are important, but further specific action is clearly required to generate higher wages and higher-skilled jobs. Maritime UK’s “Coastal Powerhouse Manifesto” sets out proposals to extend freeport benefits to all coastal areas, boost connectivity to the rest of the country, develop new skills in coastal communities and install a shore power network across the coast to provide the infrastructure to charge tomorrow’s electric vessels. It is also worth noting the research and recommendations of the KMPG and Demos report “Movers and Stayers: Localising power to level up towns”, which was published in July.

Most pertinently, last year, Professor Chris Whitty published his annual report on health disparities in coastal communities. Life expectancy, healthy life expectancy and disability-free life expectancy are all lower in coastal communities. The standardised mortality ratios for a range of conditions, including preventable mortality, are significantly higher. Life expectancy at birth in Central St Leonards ward in my constituency is 11.2 years lower for males, and 8.7 years lower for females, than in Crowborough North East in the rural, more affluent Wealden district.

Such case studies consistently emphasise that coastal communities face not only challenges with the recruitment and retention of health and social care staff, but knock-on challenges with service delivery. Last week, I visited the Parchment Trust, a local charity in Hastings that provides occupational and day-care services for people with learning and physical disabilities. Those at the trust do amazing work, but they struggle with recruiting and retaining staff—largely because of the pay they can offer. East Sussex County Council, which commissions services from the trust, has limited resources but an above-average population of elderly people and people with social care needs, and that is not reflected in local authority funding formulas.

Professor Whitty clearly outlines in his report that tackling the underlying drivers of poor health—including deprivation, poor educational attainment, housing, alcohol and/or substance misuse, homelessness and rough sleeping, underdeveloped transport infrastructure and a lack of diversity in jobs and coastal economies—and focusing proportionate and appropriate NHS and care resources to provide for physical and mental health and social care needs will help to prevent ill health in the long term. That will benefit not just our coastal communities but the whole UK.

High levels of deprivation, driven in part by major and long-standing challenges with local economies and employment, are important reasons for the poor health outcomes in these communities. Tackling deprivation is key, and although the levelling-up White Paper articulates how policy interventions will improve opportunity and boost livelihoods across the country, it does not specifically target coastal communities. For the Government’s spending, taxation, investment and regeneration policy to bring about meaningful changes in these communities, they must be at the heart of the Government’s levelling-up plans.

However, we must not focus solely on the challenges facing coastal communities, because they also offer fantastic and unique opportunities. Coastal communities have unleashed nature-based potential both on land and in our oceans—for renewable energy industries and in the fight against climate change, which can also drive social and economic benefits. Our coasts and seas contain some of the UK’s most varied ecosystems, and investing in coastal restoration and adaptation projects offers low-income coastal communities opportunities that yield financial returns on investments, create jobs, stimulate local economies and regenerate and revitalise the health of our ecosystems.

We might look, for example, at the work my hon. Friend Tim Loughton is doing with the Sussex Wildlife Trust on restoring the kelp forest off the coast of Worthing, which is helping to capture carbon. Restoring and maintaining blue carbon habitats in our seas could create jobs directly in conservation, as well as indirectly in nature-based tourism, helping to level up our coastal communities even further.

Coastal communities have their own distinctive and unique role to play in our regional and sub-regional economies, as well as in the national one. We must ensure that all places create and share in prosperity, so that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy a higher quality of life. If given the necessary social, economic and environmental support and investment, our coastal communities can be an even greater national resource, rather than a problem requiring a solution. It is therefore vital that levelling up recognises the unique challenges that coastal communities face and responds to them with meaningful policy action. It is also vital that this Government recognise the unique opportunities that coastal communities present to us economically, environmentally and socially and respond to them with meaningful policy action.

To address the challenges and exploit the opportunities of coastal communities, we need a dedicated Minister for coastal communities who can work across Government, supported by a national strategy for coastal communities and the reinstatement of a cross-departmental working group for the coast. This much-needed recognition and investment from the Government will help to secure the future of the coast and generate improved economic resilience and environmental sustainability through creating better connectivity, economic diversity and stronger communities and by restoring pride in our coastal identity as an island nation.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Order. There are actually quite a few more people standing than submitted to speak through the Speaker’s Office, so I am afraid I will have to impose a time limit of three and a half minutes with immediate effect. We will see how that goes—it might shrink further.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West 3:23 pm, 8th September 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. I have the great pleasure of representing Wirral West, which forms the north-western part of the Wirral peninsula. The coastal towns and villages of Meols, Hoylake, West Kirby, Caldy and Thurstaston offer stunning views across the Dee estuary to Hilbre island and the Welsh hills in the distance, or out across Liverpool bay to Crosby, Formby and Southport. It is an area well known for the opportunities it provides for sport and leisure activities, both for local people and people from much farther afield.

Last Saturday, I visited the Royal National Lifeboat Institution station in Hoylake for the West Kirby and Hoylake RNLI meet and greet day. It was a fantastic event, and provided the opportunity for visitors to climb on board the lifeboat and the hovercraft, explore the lifeboat station and meet the staff and volunteers. I heard about the rescues they perform, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the immense courage, selflessness, skill and strength that they show in saving lives at sea. The RNLI is massively important to the local community, which supports it a great deal and is rightly proud of the work it does. Standing in the lifeboat station and looking out across the beach caused me to reflect on the wide range of water sports and activities that take place there, including walking dogs on the beach, riding horses, going out to Hilbre island to look at the seals, sailing, kayaking, paddleboarding and so forth.

The coast is a fantastic amenity for locals and visitors alike, and it is heavily reliant on one key ingredient: the sea. The quality of water matters, but it is at risk from sewage. I am concerned that it may now also be at risk from industrialisation, because this morning the Prime Minister announced that she will lift the moratorium on extracting shale gas. My constituents will be extremely concerned about that announcement.

The natural world is immensely important to the character of Wirral West. Back in 2013, under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government, a conditional licence was granted for underground coal gasification in the Dee estuary. Like fracking, it is a risky technology for extracting fossil fuel. I have led a campaign against UCG in the Dee since 2013, and public opposition to the industrialisation of the Dee off West Kirby and Hoylake is extremely strong. The estuary is a site of special scientific interest and a place of international importance for bird life. It is important that we protect the quality of the ecosystem, so my constituents will be alarmed by the Prime Minister’s announcement this morning. I call on the Government to think again, restore the ban on fracking and put in place an outright ban on UCG too.

Sewage is also of great concern. One of my constituents wrote to me about her experience of kayaking. She said that she

“noticed a horrible scum on the water”, which entered her kayak. She added that

“the evidence of raw sewage was obvious”.

Given that the Prime Minister was responsible for cutting millions of pounds of funding earmarked for tackling water pollution during her time as Environment Secretary, people have every right to be concerned that the Government will not take this issue seriously.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

I do not have enough time, so I will carry on.

I ask the Minister to respond to that point. The Government recently published their storm overflows discharge reduction plan, but although it appears to provide for an increase in the monitoring of overflows, the question remains whether the Environment Agency and Ofwat will then use that data to take tough action. I call on the Minister to set out how the Government intend to address sewage on our beach, UCG and fracking.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

I ask Members not to take interventions, because we are up against time.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon 3:27 pm, 8th September 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. I thank my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart for her excellent speech and for bringing forward this debate. I reiterate her request for a coastal Minister, as the issues we experience around the coast are unifying. As we look to level up this great country under the new Administration, I very much hope that we can move away from the north-south divide and level up around the coast.

Margaret Greenwood did not take my intervention, but I also represent a very beautiful coastal constituency and I have been concerned about water quality this summer. It is very important that we recognise the difference between algal blooms and sewage discharge. My constituency has not had sewage discharge this summer, but we have had significant algal blooms due to the heat.

I do not want to focus on sewage today. I want to use the opportunity of having the levelling-up Minister here to talk about coastal communities and the issues that are particularly prevalent in the Devon and Cornwall peninsula following the pandemic, with the immense shortage of affordable housing that our local residents can move into and purchase.

Our beautiful area has seen a surge in short-term holiday lets and the second homes market. I very much hope that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport consultation on holiday lets registration goes ahead. I also hope that there are opportunities in the Minister’s Department to impose planning restrictions to reduce the number of holiday lets that come to market. When new properties are built, a change of use should be required if they are to become a short-term holiday let. Communities such as mine need homes for people to live and work in. We love our tourists and we would never want to stop them coming, but our housing market has got completely out of balance.

In North Devon, we are not the most productive, unfortunately, and our wages are really very low. Full-time workers in North Devon currently earn £13.29 per hour, while the south-west average is £14.67 and the Great Britain average is £15.65. Our property prices have shot up by over 22%. We are the second fastest growing property price area in the country, but our house building rate has not grown that much and the vast majority of what is being sold is going in the form of second homes or holiday lets. If this continues, we will no longer have coastal communities; we will have winter ghost towns. We need urgent intervention through the levelling-up White Paper to tackle the issue.

Ilfracombe in my constituency is regularly defined, unfortunately, as being home to the poorest wards in the whole of Devon, and among the 5% poorest wards in the entire country. The issues in towns such as Ilfracombe have been documented for decades, yet we seem unable to grasp the fact that these things are happening all the way around our coast. Each coastal MP will have similar stories to mine. Life expectancy for people in Ilfracombe is 10 years less than that for those in the south of the county.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

Unfortunately, I must not—

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Order. We are not taking interventions, and the time limit is about to vanish.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

I will end by saying again that I hope that, in addition to the establishment of a coastal Minister, we should reinstate the coastal communities fund, so that these fantastic places to live and work can continue to be just that.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:30 pm, 8th September 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. I, too, congratulate Sally-Ann Hart on securing this important debate.

For too long, the specific needs of our coastal communities have been neglected and their voices continue to be ignored. Many of our once proud resorts are tired and lacking in investment, while many people are locked into low-paid, no-prospect jobs.

Along the north-east coast, we have a particular problem that is devastating our marine ecosystem and the fishing industry from Hartlepool to Whitby, as well as hitting tourism. Dead crustaceans and other wildlife continue to be washed up on our shores, and the catches of many local fishermen are down by 90%. Some have told me about their catches. One put down 1,100 pots but caught only seven velvet crabs; he told me that he would normally catch thousands a day. A father and son went out fishing recently and had their worst day ever. Normally, they would have caught 80 kg of lobster and 250 kg of crab. Instead, they caught 5 kg of lobster and 30 kg of crab—less than 10% of their usual haul. Of the catches that are secured, I am told that buyers are now turning elsewhere and prefer to buy from areas further south, because too many of the crustaceans in our area are weak or already dead.

In a Westminster Hall debate that I secured at the end of June, I was told by the then Minister, Victoria Prentis, that this issue would remain at the very top of the Government’s agenda, but clearly that is not the case. At a time when fishermen are already feeling the economic bite of declining catches and reduced economic opportunities, they have had to fork out from their own pockets and crowdfund investigations in order to try to understand what was happening. They commissioned Tim Deere-Jones, an independent marine pollution consultant with 30 years of experience, who said that there is “no empirical evidence” for the Government’s preferred algal bloom theory as the cause of the problem. Instead, he suggested that the cause is linked to the chemical pyridine, because the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ own data indicated that quantities of it were over 70 times higher in crab samples taken from Saltburn and Seaton than in a control sample from Penzance.

I know that the results of an independently led university investigation will soon be available, but I can advise the House today that its very early results appear to support the pyridine theory. Our coastal community believes that this warrants further, comprehensive investigations by the Environment Agency into the presence of pyridine in the Tees and the possible consequences of that for marine life. I ask the agency to engage even more with our local universities when the report comes out.

Many believe that dredging is resulting in dangerous substances entering the sea and the Government will be aware that there is considerable anxiety locally about dredging in connection with the Teesworks development, which we all want to succeed. In a statement about the dead crustaceans, the South Tees Development Corporation said that

“all official scientific investigations to date have ruled out dredging” as the cause of the problem. However, in a Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science report about the South Bank Quay dredging, its officer notes that

“the data reviewed from previous studies and from desk-based sources provide an understanding of the shellfish features in this region, although it is acknowledged that these data do not represent the exact area potentially being impacted by the present project.”

Our sea is dying. I need the Government to tell us what they will do to find out exactly what is causing it and what they will do about it.

Photo of Virginia Crosbie Virginia Crosbie Conservative, Ynys Môn 3:34 pm, 8th September 2022

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Dr Huq.

I thank my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart for securing this important debate on the future of coastal communities and for her excellent suggestion that there should be a Minister for coastal communities. I will add that an island Minister would be good, too.

I will address three points: why coastal communities are special, why they need support, and how we can support them. I represent Ynys Môn, the isle of Anglesey, a unique and beautiful place We have a huge seasonal tourist industry. It is a fabulous place to visit, and I encourage all to do so. Indeed, it is such a special place that my Ynys Môn constituency will have protected status at the next general election, something for which I successfully fought.

However, the Anglesey that visitors see in the summer is not the Anglesey that local people experience year round. Outside the holiday season, many shops and restaurants shut their doors, or struggle through, and the further across the island one travels from the mainland, the harder those challenges become. We have one of the lowest rates of gross value added of any constituency in the UK.

Holyhead, where I live, is the second busiest ro-ro port in the UK, and a major route to Ireland. It sits at the far end of Anglesey and contains some of the most deprived areas in the UK, but it needs a different response from similarly deprived inland areas. To visualise why, take a map and draw a circle of 5-mile radius around Holyhead: over three quarters of that is sea. Now, I like fish, but they do not set up businesses, they do not employ people and they do not provide aspirational role models for our young people. Our towns once had bustling town centres. Holyhead used to have not one but two Clarks shoe shops, and now it has none. The loss of major employers such as Wylfa and Anglesey Aluminium has decimated local employment, which is why so many people end up in low-paid seasonal jobs, or leave to seek careers elsewhere—draining our communities and taking away our precious Welsh language and our culture.

How can we support coastal communities and give them a thriving future, with opportunities for local young people to stay, work and raise families? We need to recognise that coastal communities face unique challenges and deserve targeted support. I recently supported Isle of Anglesey County Council’s levelling-up fund bid for £17 million to regenerate Holyhead town centre. That investment would put the town centre back in the hands of the community, funding heritage projects to attract locals and visitors, supporting new businesses and offering secure, quality employment to our young people. However, the criteria for general funds, such as the levelling-up fund, usually give no specific weight to the special needs of coastal communities. The way to secure the future for coastal communities is to recognise their unique needs and provide targeted support. The young people of Ynys Môn deserve the same local opportunities as those in other parts of the UK.

I have spoken about why coastal communities are special, why they need support and how we can support them. I am honoured to represent Ynys Môn. The people of Ynys Môn put their trust and faith in me, and it is a privilege and responsibility that I take very seriously. Anglesey is also my home. It is one of the best constituencies in the UK. My father had to leave Wales to find work; I am working hard to ensure that young people right across Anglesey have a future, and that that future is on Anglesey, a coastal island community. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:37 pm, 8th September 2022

I congratulate Sally-Ann Hart on introducing the debate. I am a Member for a coastal constituency. Indeed, I live a stone’s throw away from the breathtaking view of Strangford lough. I enjoy the animal life and the majesty of the coast, but I also have first-hand experience of the pitfalls of coastal erosion. That is what I want to focus on.

Moneys have been allocated from Westminster to Northern Ireland in the past for coastal erosion. Professor Andrew Cooper and Professor Derek Jackson stated in 2018:

“A strategic approach to shoreline management is urgently needed to address the challenges of marine flooding and erosion: current shoreline management is reactive and poorly structured and continuation of current practice will lead to coastal degradation and loss of amenity value. There is an absence of adequate information on which to base coastal decision-making.”

With that in mind, we cannot even quantify the issues unless we have the information on how the coast works: the rates of change, the sources of coastal material, the patterns of sand movement, the impact of storms and post-storm recovery along the coastline. Establishing a coastal observatory for Northern Ireland is critical for us. I very much look forward hearing from the Minister, and I wish her well in her role. It is my desire that the moneys set aside for levelling up will help us in Northern Ireland to develop this conversation, and develop strategic action that we can take part in.

Being part of a coastal community does not just mean that we get fresh sea air, which we do. It does not just mean that we have great views, which we do. It means more than that. It can also mean being socially isolated. A journey that is no problem for those who can nip on a local bus in town to a hospital appointment can become an all-day excursion for those who live in a rural area. Those are the issues of isolation and the problems that need to be addressed in any approach to coastal communities.

Coastal towns are more likely to have higher levels of deprivation—I know that that is the case in Northern Ireland. They are also prone to be home to older generations. For instance, 30% of the resident population in small seaside towns were aged over 65 in 2018, compared with only 22% in small non-coastal towns. That is replicated in my constituency of Strangford. The fishing village of Portavogie, which the shadow spokesperson for the Scots Nats, Richard Thomson, visited some time ago, once had two fish-producing factories, as well as hundreds of fishing crew, but now we have a fraction of those jobs, and we are still seeking the post-Brexit economic boom.

The coastal communities fund has done some tremendous work supporting funding for volunteers and employment opportunities for vulnerable people, parents and families returning to education. It can help restore tourist attractions, business units creating employment and an environmental apprenticeship scheme. My constituency has seen some of those small things happening with the restoration of the Ballywalter lime kilns in my constituency and with sporting projects.

Looking to the future, the Minister, who is responsible for this and for helping us in Northern Ireland, should speak in favour of a holistic, UK-wide approach to ensure that every community feels the warmth of the coastal fund and any improvement scheme.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

There is a new time limit of three minutes, and the first person who is going to use that brilliantly is Robin Millar.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Conservative, Aberconwy 3:41 pm, 8th September 2022

Thank you, I think, Dr Huq. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I also thank the other hon. Members present for their contributions; there have been too many for me to refer to in my own short speech. Finally, I congratulate my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart on securing this debate, and on her valuable work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on coastal communities.

The UK has some of the most beautiful coastal settings in the world, and I am proud that Aberconwy is among them. However, although coastal communities are full of wonderful things and remind us of holidays on the beach, eating ice creams and enjoying the British summer weather, they are no stranger to complex challenges. During recent decades, our coastal communities have disproportionately topped the list of those areas in the United Kingdom most vulnerable to economic and environmental changes and shocks.

Just as much as Aberconwy has the beauty, charm and heritage of our coastal communities, it faces many of the challenges, and they have been compounded by the current energy crisis. That link is where I will focus my remaining remarks. I welcome the Government’s statement this morning, ensuring that the average household in Aberconwy will pay no more than £2,500 per year for their energy bills for the next two years from October. I also welcome the support that will be provided to businesses over the next six months. The interventions ease fears, protect jobs and promote growth.

In north Wales we have some of the most expensive electricity supply costs in the UK. At the same time, we have vast potential to produce clean energy and reduce energy costs. We can secure our energy and reduce energy prices in the long term through addressing that. I welcome the Government’s support and commitment to maximise energy production, such as nuclear and renewables, to make the UK a net energy exporter by 2040.

We are familiar with energy production in Aberconwy. Tidal range has the capacity to deliver predictable, large-scale generation with none of the problems of intermittence associated with other renewable technologies. The proposed north Wales tidal lagoon would have a generating capacity of more than 2 GW, create 20,000 jobs, generate clean electricity reliably for a century, and provide protection to our exposed coastline.

Such a scheme and the new nuclear power station at Wylfa mentioned by my hon. Friend Virginia Crosbie offer long-term and sustainable economic benefits for our north Wales coastal communities. They offer the potential of transformative investment, providing constituents and communities with security and hope for the future. They generate both economic resilience and environmental sustainability in the long term. They go way beyond short-term relief and tax-and-spend economics. They exemplify investment for growth and are a long-term solution to much more than the challenges of energy. They can deliver for our nation and, more importantly, for our valuable and vulnerable coastal communities.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 3:44 pm, 8th September 2022

It is a privilege to serve with you in the Chair, Dr Huq. I congratulate my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart on securing this debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it.

I represent Waveney, the most easterly constituency in the United Kingdom. Lowestoft, the principal town, was formerly the fishing capital of the southern North sea. Unfortunately, over the last 40 to 50 years, the economy has declined significantly and we have deep pockets of deprivation, which are exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis. However, the community is coming together to support those people who will face real challenges and hardship in the course of the next few months.

I want to emphasise that there is cause for optimism. CEFAS has its headquarters and labs in the town, and they are being refurbished and rebuilt. East Coast College has opened the energy skills centre, ready for the renewables opportunities off our coast. The Gull Wing bridge—the long-awaited third crossing—is under construction, as is the Lowestoft flood defence scheme. We are about to start work on various town deal initiatives. Over the last three years there has been public investment of £250 million in the local town. That is very important, and I sense it is going to bring about meaningful change, with an economy based on renewables, energy and a revived fishing industry, as well as tourism and leisure.

I want briefly to highlight three issues where coastal communities do lose out. They relate to Government funding. The first is education funding. Suffolk is a member of the F40 group—it is not a group to be proud to be a member of—which is made up of the 40 local education authorities that receive the lowest amount of funding from Whitehall. Coastal communities have real educational challenges. That iniquity needs to be addressed. On local government funding, Suffolk, like many coastal communities, is a two-tier county authority. Suffolk receives £310 per head, compared with the £560 per head received by metropolitan areas, and the £729 per head for inner London. Those issues need to be addressed. Similarly, our enterprise zone needs to be rebalanced and reallocated land. I am sure that I will take that up with the Minister in due course.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:47 pm, 8th September 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. Having been relieved of my ministerial duties just a few hours ago—shortly after responding to your question in the Chamber this morning—I could not resist the opportunity to contribute to this debate on my return to the Back Benches. I congratulate my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart on securing this debate, just so that I could return to speaking after a while of not being able to do so.

I represent a constituency with two coasts—it is one of only three such constituencies in the whole country—so the matter of coastal communities is very close to my heart. Representing a Cornish constituency, I find that very often the image portrayed of life in Cornwall is idyllic. The series running at the moment on Channel 4, “Finding the Cornish Dream”, is a slightly warped version of what life if actually like for many people in Cornwall, because there is no doubt that coastal communities in Cornwall are among the most disadvantaged in our country. That is why it is so important that we have debates such as this, and that we continue to remind the Government of the importance of supporting our coastal communities to ensure that they can thrive and be prosperous in the future.

I add my voice to those calling for a Minister for coastal communities. Just after the last election, I had a discussion with the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson, about the need to put in place a Minister for coastal communities. I actually volunteered to take that role, but unfortunately the pandemic took over and we never managed to conclude that discussion. Perhaps the new Prime Minister would like to consider appointing a Minister for coastal communities, and if she really needs someone to do it, I am more than happy to return to Government.

There are a number of challenges that we need to face in supporting our coastal communities. We are too heavily reliant of tourism and hospitality, as important as that sector is. Much of our employment is seasonal, so we need to help our coastal communities to diversify their economic opportunities. I say to the Minister that one thing that should be done for coastal communities in Cornwall is address the biggest issue that we face—that of housing. Housing is unaffordable for most local people. The impact of the pandemic on the holiday let market and the increase in the number of holiday lets mean that too many people in Cornwall cannot find anywhere to live. Businesses are affected because they cannot find staff, because people are willing to come and work in Cornwall but cannot find anywhere to live. I know the Government are consulting on what to do about holiday lets, but I urge the Minister to make it a priority and ensure the Government act on holiday lets, so that local people in Cornwall can find somewhere to live.

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne 3:50 pm, 8th September 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq, and I thank my near neighbour my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart. Three minutes is not enough time to do justice to the beauty of my coastal community, but Debussy composed “La Mer” there, so I will rest there. Nor is it enough time to do justice to some of its challenges, so I will focus on just two aspects: climate change and transport. I put it to the Minister that therein lie both opportunity and threat, and it is all about the sea.

Those rising sea levels have caused consternation and concern and have inspired quite ambitious plans from the Environment Agency. Eastbourne will potentially see the most ambitious coastal defence scheme rolled out across the land, with over £100 million of investment to secure the town’s future. I thank the Minister for her and her predecessor’s work on this particular issue because within that vital defensive work there are countless opportunities to add value and bring about regeneration. Whether in aquaculture and new visions for growing kelp and mussel beds or in safety, lighting and access to the seafront, there are many opportunities for us to exploit, so I look forward to continuing to work with DEFRA on that enormously important scheme.

Coastal communities rise or fall by their transport connectivity. As my hon. Friend said, there have been many reports and much good work has been done in Eastbourne on roads, rail and air. I put on the record the absolutely driving need for road investment on the A27, for the high-speed rail signalled by my hon. Friend to connect us to London, the north and the continent, and for Gatwick’s second runway, which is hugely significant for a coastal community that is dependent on tourism.

I have managed to confine myself to just six specific asks in my remaining time. There should be an emphasis on that fairer funding formula. Eastbourne actually has an average age of 45—contrary to Daily Mail reporting—but we have a high percentage of older people, and we need that enhanced level of funding to provide social care. There should be active promotion with Visit England for the year of the coast 2023. I echo my earlier points on transport. VAT was defining previously; it could be again. There should be a Minister for the coast, because the issue crosses all Departments—Health, Transport, Business, Treasury. It could be a strategic post.

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Meon Valley 3:53 pm, 8th September 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. I congratulate my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart on securing the debate. Although I no longer represent a coastal community, my constituency borders such communities and many of my constituents work in them and rely on their economic, cultural and social success. I also wrote a chapter called “Coastal Communities in the 21st Century” in the 2019 book “Britain Beyond Brexit”, edited by my hon. Friend George Freeman.

My first point is that coastal communities are diverse in population and economy size, and there is no one size fits all. Communities in Cornwall and North Devon are very different from those in the constituencies of my hon. Friends Caroline Ansell. However, they do have one thing in common: the Government’s productivity drivers and initiatives on skills, innovation, competition, enterprise and investment work less well in coastal communities. That is largely due to the hub-and-spoke nature of the UK’s infrastructure, as resources are focused on the major arterial routes out of large conurbations.

Since the book was published, we have had the covid pandemic. That has meant that digital connectivity has been an issue in many areas, not least remote coastal communities where the problems are not only with broadband but with mobile coverage, as many people on holiday in Cornwall—including myself—have found. However, working from home has increased dramatically, so improving digital connectivity is one of the most cost-effective ways of providing incentives for businesses and people to move out of central conurbations and into coastal communities.

I believe that transport is the largest barrier for coastal communities. Those communities are often at the end of the line, meaning that cars are the only way to get around. It takes the same amount of time as in the Victorian era to get a train from London to many coastal communities, which is not good enough. Even to places such as Portsmouth, it still takes one hour and 40 minutes to travel 70 miles by train. The fastest time from London to Great Yarmouth is two hours and 38 minutes to travel just 136 miles, and Newquay in Cornwall—only 256 miles away—is just under five hours by train. By contrast, it takes two hours to travel the 200 miles between Manchester and London, and from Birmingham, it takes one hour and 29 minutes to go 126 miles. Members can imagine how galling it is to hear about HS2 train times if you live by the sea.

It is just as bad to travel between coastal communities, too. It takes two hours and 40 minutes to travel the 58 miles between Great Yarmouth and Felixstowe; sometimes, it is possible to cycle those routes faster. That is the crux of it—poor transport links and poor digital connectivity are two very negative forces pushing down on our coastal communities. One is, sadly, very expensive to fix; one is much cheaper, so I hope that Government policy is directed towards digital connectivity and bringing coastal communities into the 21st century. That would at least take one negative away while longer-term transport solutions are found.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes 3:56 pm, 8th September 2022

I congratulate my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart on securing this debate. I pity Members of Parliament who do not get to represent coastal communities: along my 58 miles of coastline, I am fortunate to have large towns such as Brixham, Salcombe and Dartmouth, as well as the surrounding villages. It is a bit of a mixed bag: in Brixham, we see huge opportunity coming through a growing fishing sector that had a record year last year and is on course to have a record year this year. It sends much of its fine produce up to Grimsby and the processing plants there, which is very welcome. However, to make that opportunity go further, we need to ensure that Brixham secures funding from the levelling-up fund, which will enlarge the harbour and support the high-tech businesses that are based there, such as the photonics industry.

One of the biggest problems I see in my patch is that of GPs and rural healthcare. Far too many minor injury units and cottage hospitals are closing, and too many GPs are unable to give as much access to residents as necessary; access to dentists is also poor. We need to look at how we roll out better rural healthcare, a point that is most keenly felt in coastal communities. The point about bus routes, which has already been made by my hon. Friend Mrs Drummond, is well placed: we have terrible transport links at the moment. We need to make good use of the reduction in bus fares that has just been announced by the Government, which is going to take place in January and last for three months, with low-price fares to encourage people back on to the transport networks. It is a chicken-and-egg scenario: the only way we are going to get more bus routes is by getting more people to use buses in the first instance.

My third point is about fishing and aquaculture. Since all Members present are coastal MPs, I encourage them all to join the all-party parliamentary group for shellfish aquaculture, because aquaculture can increase opportunities within our coastal communities, as well as help to sequester carbon and produce sustainable food. One of the largest mussel farms in Europe is off my coastline, and it is doing extraordinary work.

Finally, turning to the point that was so well made by my hon. Friend Steve Double, housing is a big problem. In Salcombe, the average house price is £800,000, so there are no homes available for local people, and the story is similar in Brixham and in Dartmouth. We need to build houses with covenants—houses that are there for local people at locally affordable rents—and we need to do so quickly, because quite frankly, my communities are being hollowed out by those extraordinarily high prices. There is a lot to do, and I know that as a group, we can work on a cross-party basis to make sure we get the very best for our communities.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Finally from the Back Benches, Natalie Elphicke.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover 3:59 pm, 8th September 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart on securing this important debate. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as an unremunerated director of the not-for-profit Housing and Finance Institute, which has put forward a strong case for coastal renaissance in its “Turning the Tide” research paper.

We are an island nation, so it is somewhat surprising that so many policies, and the funding that goes with them, appear better designed to support our big cities than to support our coastal towns and villages. Coastal communities have a different design and construct from other areas. They are sometimes described as the end of the line, but in Dover and Deal we like to say, “Welcome to the beginning of Britain”. However, that end-of-the-line thinking dominates Whitehall. It is extremely damaging to the allocation of much-needed infrastructure investment, and to business, as whole swathes of business opportunities are moved to the so-called central belt in the midlands or even further north.

My constituency is the gateway to and from the European continent, and it is vital that investment in it is supported through its continued and future growth, which will benefit the country as a whole. For Dover and Deal, that means investment in the A2 upgrade, which is part of the roads investment programme, in port health and in port border infrastructure, which is the subject of a levelling-up bid from Kent County Council, and in our people through the education and skills necessary to make the most of the opportunities that have arisen since we left the European Union, and to reflect a modern, digital and creative economy. That is the subject of a second levelling-up bid, led by Dover District Council, and I commend both bids to the Minister.

In the time I have remaining, I will focus on coastal community deprivation. In the 2015 deprivation indices, more than two thirds of the 30 most deprived small areas were in coastal communities, and nine of the 10 most deprived small areas were in seaside places. Rolling forward to the snapshot of the latest available figures, which are from 2019, 25 of the 30 most deprived small areas are in coastal communities, and all of the top 10 are in our small coastal areas.

A notable feature of coastal communities is a high incidence of the private rented sector, as well as a lack of new or affordable housing. The proportion of private rented sector housing increases in a gradient across all the quartiles as the average multiple deprivation score increases. Additionally, there is a significant incidence of poor-quality housing, which has a causative effect on other indices of deprivation. Prioritising our coastal communities and their housing is essential. Policymaking needs to move on from the Victorian industrial focus and focus on our modern age.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

If our three Front Benchers keep to nine minutes each, Sally-Ann Hart will get to sum up at the end.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Financial Secretary), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 4:02 pm, 8th September 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq, and I shall do my best to stick within the guidelines that you have given. I congratulate Sally-Ann Hart on securing the debate. I understand that she hails originally from Northumberland, a county that has a particularly special place in my heart, not least because it is where I have my earliest memories of seaside holidays in places such as Berwick-upon-Tweed and Seahouses. It is certainly a place that means a great deal to me.

Throughout the debate we have heard a great deal about Members’ huge affection for our coastal communities, their way of life and what they have to offer as places to live and visit, and as places where people can work and raise families. Sadly, as we have heard, they are also places that face particular economic challenges. Despite the prosperity that openness to the sea can bring or has previously brought, our coastal communities can experience particular combinations of economic and social fragility. For example, they often have a heavy dependency on tourism and seasonal labour to take advantage of the economic opportunities. There is also a heavy dependency on a relatively limited number of industries in many cases, and such places are more prone to high levels of unemployment. Their attractiveness and proximity to the sea mean that there is real pressure on house prices and a lack of affordability, particularly for young people—all of which can feed into a cycle of decline that builds in business fragilities. Coastal communities are also at the sharp end of the effects of climate change, including coastal erosion and the impact on biodiversity. They are key to the success of our future energy policies, delivering energy security and tackling climate change.

My own constituency goes much further inland than it does up the coast, but I do have a very special, beautiful piece of coastline, from the northern part of the city of Aberdeen to the nature reserves up past Collieston. There has been considerable debate about not just onshore planning decisions but marine spatial planning issues, for example on the interaction between biodiversity on land and the development pressures for housing or, in one particular case, a golf course closely associated with a former occupant of the White House. There is a constant tension between the infrastructure that is needed for offshore energy, whether hydrocarbons or other types, and other demands on the sea, such as our traditional fishing industry.

A good local example of an extremely successful development is the Aberdeen Offshore Wind Farm, also known as the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre, which is made up of 11 offshore turbines just off the coast of Aberdeen and produces enough energy to power the entirety of the city. I had the great pleasure of going out on a boat just a couple of weeks ago to visit it. It also has a community benefit fund that supports community projects.

Beyond that, there is the ScotWind project. Scotland’s current peak energy demand is around 5 GW. ScotWind is set to allow for a capacity of nearly 25 GW. Certainly, our coastal communities are at the forefront of that energy revolution, as well as the development of hydrogen, as the means we might use to store excess capacity that is generated and not required in that moment. It is incredibly frustrating, at a time when we are experiencing some of the highest energy prices in Europe, for people to be able to look out of their windows and see the infrastructure but not be able to see the benefit of that infrastructure on bills due to the way we choose to structure our energy markets.

There is an elephant in the room here—the impact of Brexit, both directly and in the tardy nature of any benefits that might come through. I think particularly of our fishing industry in Scotland, but it also impacts our wider food and drink sector. Let me just take the example of langoustines. They are the most important shellfish species in terms of landed value and social economic support. In 2019, more than £91 million-worth of langoustines were landed in Scotland, making it the second most valuable stock after mackerel. We exported about 18,000 metric tonnes from the UK to the EU in 2010. That figure had halved by 2019.

I was interested in the comments made by Jim Shannon on the impact on the Portavogie community, which I had the great pleasure of visiting with him. There are similarly sized communities along the north coast of Scotland, where processors are not only experiencing trade barriers to exporting but facing energy bills that have increased nearly fivefold. If that is a worry for the processing sector, we can only imagine the worries the catching sector has as a result. If they are unable to supply the processors, the market has gone, and the opportunities for fishing will be exported entirely overseas.

On funding for our coastal communities, Aberdeenshire benefited hugely from structural funding from the European Union. Between 2007 and 2012, for example, it received more than £23 million of European funding, leveraging in total funding to the value of £60 million, from funds such as the European regional development fund, the social fund, the fisheries fund, LEADER and Interreg. In contrast, the Aberdeenshire Council allocation from the shared prosperity fund for the next period is only £8 million. There is a great deal of catching up to do.

In my final minute, let me go back to a previous political life as a local authority councillor in Aberdeenshire, when I had the great pleasure of serving on the North Sea Commission and was vice-chair and then chair of the marine resources group, which concerns itself with themes such as achieving a productive and sustainable North sea, a climate-neutral North sea region, a connected North sea region and a smart region. It brought forward many policy initiatives and allowed regional representatives from Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Scotland to come together to discuss those shared opportunities and challenges.

I think I am correct in saying that at this point in time, although the chair of the overall North Sea Commission used to represent Southend—the council—no English authorities are currently represented. Our Norwegian friends and allies consider the organisation a very effective way of ensuring that bilateral links are maintained and of having discussions. It is a great shame that England, the largest country in the North sea, is not connected in to that organisation. I urge my English colleagues to go back to their local authorities to ask why not.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 4:10 pm, 8th September 2022

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Dr Huq. I thank all who have contributed to this incredibly important debate.

Covid has exposed many things, including the dysfunction of the British state. It is overcentralised, slow, wasteful and clunky. Our economy too often delivers great gains for too few in too few places. We need a new model of economic growth to spread wealth, security and opportunity fairly. As we have heard from the contributions today, nowhere is that more true, sadly, than in many of our coastal communities.

Coastal communities, like many former industrial towns, have seen 40 years of managed decline as the great industries of fishing, shipbuilding and port work have all but disappeared for many. Tourism, boosted in some places throughout covid, has not been enough to mitigate the decline of industry. Added to that, the natural geographical challenges for many of these towns—their location on the edges of our country—have often forced them to the periphery of our economy, but, as we have seen in this afternoon’s debate, not from our minds or hearts.

The problem has been turbocharged by 10 years of austerity that has hit our coastal communities hard, ripping apart the social fabric of those towns with the loss of very good jobs. Too many young people are faced with a choice between family and community or opportunity. Too many have had to get out to get on. For the many people who are left growing old hundreds of miles away from children and grandchildren, that is their inheritance, and it has been squandered.

A recent report by the Centre for Progressive Policy found that Conservative-held seaside towns were particularly likely to be pushed into poverty by the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), and his failure to tackle the cost of living crisis. The Office for National Statistics found that the population declined 32% for smaller seaside towns between 2009 and 2018. So, stuck in a low-growth, high-tax cycle, Britain is now unique: a major country that believes it can power a modern economy using only a handful of people in a handful of sectors in one small corner of the country.

Coastal communities do not represent a small section of our society that can easily be forgotten. Approximately 18.5% of the population live in coastal communities—a huge pool of talent and resources that the economy needs. To get the economy growing nationally, we need it working everywhere. We must combat the decline in wages and job opportunities faced by coastal communities, rebalance the lack of opportunity, and entrust local communities with regeneration plans to bring back ageing high streets and infrastructure. That is what levelling up was meant to be about.

The future of levelling up under the new Government is uncertain, and so, too, is the future for many coastal communities. They are absolutely right to have pride in their areas and their rich history. I was born and raised in one. If we visit any of them, we meet people with unlimited energy and ambition for the future of their towns. They are crying out for a Government who will match that ambition, but they have been sorely let down.

Our fishing communities have been sold short by a deal that does not secure our future as an independent coastal state in full control of our waters. Hastings and Rye’s is the largest land-based fishing fleet of under 10-metre fishing fleets in Europe. Has Brexit delivered the utopia for them on quotas? No. Many fishermen in Hastings have said they feel stabbed in the back when it comes to the Brexit deal they have been given. Paul Joy and the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association have said that they are angry about the deal the Government failed to secure for them. Their share of the cod quota has gone up from 9.3% to just 10% over five years.

The tourism sector has also not received enough support throughout the pandemic, and there has been a serious lack of affordable housing. Our coast is one of Britain’s greatest assets, but the people who live there have been let down by a lack of investment and poor infrastructure. A 2019 Lords Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities report found that, in most seaside towns,

“Inadequate transport connectivity is holding back many coastal communities and hindering the realisation of their economic potential.”

I was interested to hear Sally-Ann Hart speak about her campaign to secure better rail along the south coast. I thought, “I have been taken back all the way to the 2010 election, when her predecessor was campaigning for the same thing.” After 12 years of a Tory MP and a Tory Government, they are no further down the track in getting electrification between Hastings and Ashford. Coupled with limited access to education, particularly to further and higher education institutions, that curtails opportunities for young people, who deserve so much better.

Poor-quality housing was among the most significant problems reported by coastal residents. The stock of second homes and holiday lets continues to increase—up 40% in three years in England—pushing local people out of affordable housing. We desperately need to improve digital connectivity in coastal areas. We have seen how reliant we are on it over the past three years, and we will be even more so in the future. Many coastal towns have tragically become hotspots for rough sleeping and homelessness.

On all those key indicators, the Government have not delivered, even after the delivery of some pots of funding, such as the coastal communities fund. At the same time, those communities have borne the brunt of Tory deregulation and cost-cutting. Water companies in England and Wales pump raw sewage into our nature an average of every two and a half minutes. Areas such as beaches, playing fields and bathing waters have faced 1,076 years-worth of raw sewage over a six-year period. Hundreds of campaigners, such as the energetic Helena Dollimore, have taken to beaches in Hastings to protest the dumping of raw sewage on our beaches. If Ministers really value our coastal communities, they should stop dumping raw sewage on them.

Now from Rye to Redcar, where thousands of dead crustaceans washed up on the beaches, as my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham powerfully set out. Those communities deserve answers and an investigation. If the Government and the Tees Valley Mayor have nothing to hide, they should welcome the scrutiny.

I want to hope for better, but the new Prime Minister was responsible for unleashing cuts of tens of millions of pounds to the Environment Agency. Environment Agency data shows that, in subsequent years, the Tories presided over a doubling of the rate at which water companies dump raw sewage. It never needed to be this way.

Under the previous Labour Government, one of the first places to see the potential of investment in wind energy was Grimsby. Now a new generation of young people are powering the world from the Grimsby docks through clean energy and life-changing apprenticeships. Communities know best what their natural resources and assets are, so they should have more say in and control over their investment and regeneration plans. We need to bring power, ownership and assets back to people and communities so that they have a stake in their future. That is why we want to replace the right to bid with a far more powerful right to buy, which would mean that communities got first refusal on local assets and the right to buy them without competition. Assets of community value include pubs, historic buildings, football clubs and high street shops—the things that make up the social fabric of our societies. This is about giving communities financial autonomy, which makes them more resilient and insulates them from decisions made at the whim of Whitehall.

The Welsh Government are introducing new planning laws and stronger licensing systems for holiday lets and second homes, which means that communities in Wales will be able to reap the rewards of thriving tourism while preventing areas from becoming ghost towns when holidays end. It will also put an end to people being priced out of their own neighbourhoods just so that homes can stand empty for months on end. As we have heard, that is a problem across the country, but particularly in Cornwall and the south-west. The Government must learn an important lesson from that. By trusting and working with the community, we can find the right balance. We can bring jobs, growth and income while protecting the fabric and spirit of our coastal communities, which matter so much.

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 4:19 pm, 8th September 2022

It is an absolute honour to be here and speak in this debate. I thank my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart for raising the important issue of coastal communities and their future. This Government’s central mission is to level up the UK by spreading opportunity more equally across the country, bringing left-behind communities up to the level of more prosperous areas. I am delighted to have the opportunity to set out our ambitious plans to realise the potential of every place and every person across the UK.

We have already made progress towards levelling up coastal communities through initiatives such as rolling out gigabit broadband, introducing a fairer school funding formula, opening freeports, increasing the national living wage, recruiting more police officers, and further local devolution with more powers being passed to local people, away from Westminster.

My Department’s coastal communities fund, which ran from 2012 to 2019, made great strides towards levelling up coastal communities, with investment of £229 million into 369 projects in coastal areas through England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

The coastal development fund was important for coastal communities around the country. The Minister’s predecessor said that fishermen in Redcar could access the fund for infrastructure—perhaps a new fishing boat or equipment to improve their fishing. However, there are no fish left in the sea for them to catch. Does the Minister agree that we need further investigation into the ecological disaster we have on our hands on Teesside?

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I am not sure I quite agree that there are no fish in the sea.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

There are no fish in the sea off Teesside!

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

With respect, I am not sure I agree with that statement. Coming from the coastal community of Great Grimsby, where our fishing industry is taking advantage of the increasing Brexit opportunities for quotas, I accept that we need to ensure that fishing is sustainable to ensure that we have a future industry. However, I am not quite sure I agree with the hon. Gentleman there, but DEFRA is not my portfolio or my specialism.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

The Minister mentioned the moneys dispersed through England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Could the Minister send me the details on the money that was allocated to Northern Ireland?

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Yes, I will write to the hon. Gentleman with those details. Thanks to the coastal communities fund, more than 7,000 jobs have been created, 2,000 existing jobs have been safeguarded, thousands of training places for local people have been produced and more than 3 million visitors were attracted to coastal areas. It is estimated that those visitors brought hundreds of millions of pounds of expenditure into our coastal communities, and that the funding supported almost 9,000 existing businesses, while helping to launch hundreds more.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

I agree entirely that the coastal communities fund was a truly excellent thing. Please can we have it back?

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I will certainly take it back to the Department, although I am not sure how long I will be in this position. I hope it will be for a little bit longer.

With regard to other funding streams and the success of the coastal communities fund, it is right that we now focus our regeneration efforts around coastal communities through our larger and more expansive programmes as part of a more joined-up approach to levelling up. As we have heard from many Members today, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is not the only Department touched by coastal communities. There are also the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport—the list goes on—but I will go back into the Department and make sure that we are talking across all Departments to ensure that we get those benefits that Members are looking for.

We also have a long-term ambition to reduce the alphabet soup of Government funding streams. Now that the coastal communities fund has closed, my Department has taken care to ensure that coastal communities of all sizes remain at the heart of our continuing regeneration programmes. For example, there are 22 coastal towns that are each recipients of towns deals worth up to £25 million, including places such as Whitby and Birkenhead. Overall, coastal areas will benefit from over £673 million-worth of investment via the towns fund alone. The towns fund is specifically targeted at places with high levels of deprivation, which makes it a good fit for some of our coastal towns, as we have heard today. Our towns deals unleash the potential of our local communities by regenerating towns and delivering long-term economic and productivity growth—productivity has been a theme throughout the debate. This is through investments in urban regeneration, digital and physical connectivity, skills, heritage and enterprise infrastructure.

Other coastal communities, such as Maryport and South Shields, are benefiting from future high streets fund grants to revitalise their high streets. We have also heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) and for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), who have put in bids for other funds as well. We need to make sure that we continue to revitalise our high streets for our future generations. The future high streets fund is focused on renewing and refreshing high streets, by boosting footfall and reducing vacant shopfronts, for example. In total, coastal communities will benefit from £149.7 million-worth of funding via the future high streets fund. Every one of our programmes, from the community ownership fund to the levelling up fund, features multiple coastal communities on their list of successful bids.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Conservative, Aberconwy

I am struck by the Minister’s list of extensive investments. My own contribution referenced investment. However, Opposition Members mentioned what is happening in Wales, where the proposal is to introduce another tax—a tourism tax. We heard tax mentioned this morning and a tourism tax mentioned here. It seems to me that there is a contrast here between approaches of investment for growth and taxation. Would the Minister agree?

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank my hon. Friend for making that clear. We have been having lengthy discussions over the last few weeks about the disadvantages of adopting new taxes. Implementing tax cuts and developing and helping the economy are vitally important. We need to make sure that, throughout the UK, we try to have a consistent approach that helps members of the public, instead of playing political games.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

A number of Opposition Members, including those on the Front Bench, have raised the issue of sewage discharge, as though it is a new phenomenon that has never happened before, when it has in fact been going on for decades. We are the first Government ever to take action on this issue—I know that, because I launched the plan two weeks ago. Does the Minister think I should send a copy of that plan to the Opposition Front Bench, because they seem to have missed it?

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I have heard the point from my hon. Friend, but I need to make quick progress.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye, who called this debate to discuss the future of coastal communities. I hear her calls, and those from other Members, for a coastal communities Minister. That is not part of our Government policy, but hopefully, while I am in this place as the Member for Great Grimsby, everyone will know that I understand exactly the situation that she and other Members are talking about. I will cut short what have left to allow her to wind up.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye 4:29 pm, 8th September 2022

I thank the Minister, the SNP spokesman Richard Thomson, and the other Members present for their contributions. It is of regret that the shadow Minister, Sarah Owen, chose to politicise and personalise her response in an otherwise constructive cross-party debate. Having stood against my predecessor in 2015, she is still fighting a battle for Hastings and Rye, rather than focusing on her new role and constituency. My concerns are for 2022 and the future, not the fight of 2015.

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).