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The coastal conversation – what next for proposed growth and support initiatives?

 

In a LinkedIn post a little over a year ago I called out to my connections that we need to talk about the coast and coastal resorts especially.

My post was borne of frustration; frustration that for most of my 20 years in the economic development sector there has been an ebb and flow of national policy discussion but that there was not sufficient or sustained attention on the coast and missed opportunities on the coast.

Perhaps one reason is the label: we use ‘seaside towns’, ‘seaside resorts’ and ‘coastal communities’ at different times and it is not as easy a label to apply as ‘city’. It has certainly been more difficult to bring these places together than the Core Cities or Key Cities groups, and that lack of joined-up voice makes it easier for central policy-makers to focus elsewhere.

Representing TDA, Torbay Council’s economic development company, it will not be a surprise that our core focus has been coastal resorts. The reason for this is not just all of the factors identified in related research from the New Economics Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Localis, Social Market Foundation and others.

We made statistical comparisons with other resorts which suggested that resorts are typically found near the bottom of all the different measures which assess economic performance. This demonstrates there is a huge human cost with higher deprivation, lower educational attainment and greater instances of poor health common. These issues all then have financial implications for national and local government which are very significant, especially for local authorities struggling to sustain all but essential services.

Throughout last year TDA worked with Institute of Economic Development (IED) colleagues to share our perspective speaking to our Heart of the South West LEP, the South East LEP, the Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group, Coastal Communities Alliance and Coastal Challenge Summit to try to encourage the coastal conversation. We were sharing our summary and our perspective, not that there should be less focus on city growth, but that growth policy is not a binary choice pitting one place against another and more a call to put trust in local places and allow them to use tools that have been applied elsewhere.

We argued there is the same need to encourage investment at a pace which creates confidence in coastal places as in large towns and cities. In bringing forward investment we would see growth in local and national benefits, whether that be in addressing some of the issues experienced in Devon and Somerset’s coastal places such as skills, housing and economic infrastructure, or improving opportunities for business, place and people.

Torbay Together, a partnership of local leaders, made the case for a Torbay Town Deal including a coastal enterprise zone (bit.ly/OurTorbay). We want to see how the learning and the freedoms of enterprise zones can be applied to coastal resort regeneration issues.

The concept of a coastal enterprise zone would allow: enhanced capital allowances to encourage investment into business growth across all sectors; discounted public works loan board borrowing for investments into regeneration enabling, for instance, employment space and other regeneration projects to come forward; improving the retention of public sector spend within the area; connecting education better with business and extending our technical and higher level skills provision. This type of measure, we believe, would provide confidence and momentum, encourage additional investment, create opportunities and connect our residents and community with those opportunities.

Recognising that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government argued recently that there are coastal enterprise zones, we welcome the clear endorsement of this idea by the House of Lords Select Committee on seaside towns. It could also be positive that the introduction of the Stronger Towns Fund implied that government is considering how the Town Deal concept can be extended further.

Here the House of Lords report endorses that approach arguing that a Town Deal for Blackpool should be the next step. The Committee also explicitly seeks reassurance that coastal issues will be addressed within the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and that Coastal Communities Fund is continued and enlarged.

So while it feels increasingly perverse that our great resorts are struggling to regenerate themselves and bidding for a funding allocation which is less than the price of a decent Premier League footballer, it would be wrong to do anything other than welcome the House of Lords report and the conclusions that it has drawn.

With colleagues around the coast we will watch with interest to see how government responds to the Committee’s conclusions and, in particular, whether there are additional freedoms or directions introduced to ensure that the development of Local Industrial Strategies have regard for stuck coastal economies.

Our view is simple, the coast matters.

Alan Denby is Director of Economic Strategy at TDA

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