Disadvantaged seaside towns like Hastings face massive problems, requiring urgent government action, according to a hard-hitting House of Lords report published last week.
In response to the report Hastings Borough Council (HBC) leader Peter Chowney, who is also Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Hastings, said: “Hastings suffers from poor transport links, poor health outcomes, high unemployment, and a lack of the kinds of skills that employers need.
“In some parts of town, economic and social deprivation remain a damaging problem, with intergenerational worklessness and poor health blighting communities.”
According to the Government’s own indices of deprivation, in 2015 Hastings was one of ten local authorities – all coastal towns – with the lowest average employee pay.
The Lords select committee report says the bucket and spade heyday of seaside resorts in the 50s and 60s is long-gone and they now face ‘persistent disadvantages’ compared with elsewhere in Britain.
It notes: “Young people in seaside towns are being let down and left behind by poor standards in existing provision, limited access to educational institutions and a lack of employment opportunities, resulting in low levels of aspiration.”
The report argues that, “investment from central government must be focused on supporting sustainable, long-term regeneration, not piecemeal, short-term initiatives,” and in a key recommendation, it urges, “the restoration and enhancement of the public realm and of cultural heritage assets through capital investment”.
The report also urges government intervention to ensure a fairer housing market something which Labour, Mr Chowney points out, has consistently argued for. The high level of homes of multiple occupation add to the problems, along with poor maintenance by landlords and insecure tenancies.
The House of Lords report says: “The sheer scale of the problems… mean that many coastal areas are making only very limited headway relative to the size of the problems they are experiencing”.
It also highlights what it describes as: “Perverse financial incentives to offer poor accommodation”.
To turn things around it recommends, among other measures, changes to the calculation of local housing allowance that more accurately reflect local market rents and more power for local authorities to enforce standards.
On regeneration it notes that local authorities, alongside business and community leaders, have a crucial role to play in providing vision, leadership and enforcement, enabling partnerships and setting a favourable planning environment.
It gives as an example its ideal, a fictional seaside town called it calls Seaminster, which it says has got it right and it describes Seaminster in these terms: “Creativity, sustainability and wellbeing were put at the heart of the endeavour, both as a means of diversifying and growing the local economy and as an accessible way of getting the whole community on board with the process of change.
“Local champions emerged, and a public debate was held in the local media about what the community’s priorities should be. Gradually, an ambitious plan was forged: multi-faceted, inclusive, building from the grassroots up.
“Jointly, the groups approached the local council. Although hard-pressed financially, the council agreed to put its weight – and a small amount of resource – behind the emerging vision for Seaminster’s renewal.”
…the bucket and spade heyday of seaside resorts in the 50s and 60s is long-gone.
Mr Chowney says HBC has supported the town’s many festivals and has an ambitious plan to revitalise the Bohemia and White Rock area with new performance and leisure facilities and he says the efforts of the creative community are also making Hastings an attractive town to visit.
“Above all, the Lords report is a call for radical action,” says Mr Chowney and he accuses local MP Amber Rudd of, “…having been anything but”.
He Chowney says: “Significant economic and physical regeneration has taken place in recent years, with the cultural and creative sectors playing an important part, and the seafront in particular transformed and revitalised.
“Much of this was down to the council’s efforts in attracting grants, some of them from the European Union. However, this is not enough.
“We need serious investment over the longer term in Hastings, not just one-off time-limited special projects that rarely do more than scrape the surface of these deep-seated problems and we need strategic, properly planned improvements to the transport infrastructure.
“So the report doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t know already about seaside towns. But it does help to highlight the problems many seaside town have faced for a long time, and haven’t gone away.
“While ‘reinventing’ the local economy is a way forward, as the report suggests, we need planned, long-term investment to break the cycle of deprivation in our poorest communities, and create the right conditions to generate a thriving economy that benefits all our citizens.”
Also commenting on the report Ms Rudd says: “I welcome the work carried out by Lord Bassam with the House of Lords Select Committee on regenerating seaside towns which highlights the unique issues they face.
“I will be making the case for additional funding for Hastings and Rye to improve education, transport, and jobs in our towns. I have recently written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask for Hastings to be included in the Stronger Towns Fund and I will continue to represent our towns to the best of my ability.”
Meanwhile Rob Lee, who leads the Conservative group on HBC says: “Peter Chowney talks down our town and its people and highlights all the challenges we face but does not provide any solutions. I am glad that we have an active MP who has raised our profile and often makes the case for Hastings to her colleagues in Government.”
* Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities: The future of seaside towns, published 4 April 2019.