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LEVELLING UP

Troubled Waters: Tackling the crisis on England’s coast

Reviving England’s left-behind coastal communities key to winning next election
Jenevieve Treadwell
September 19, 2023
Troubled Waters: Tackling the crisis on England’s coast

“Where the coast goes, England follows. For nearly four decades, seaside towns and cities have backed the eventual election winners. They are the forgotten battleground that could decide the next election, and both political parties need to make a serious offering to coastal voters to win their trust.

 

England’s coast holds an important place in Britain’s history. Towns and cities along the shoreline once welcomed holidaymakers from across the country and hosted industries that exported around the world.

Today, the coast is in crisis. Cheap international travel has taken tourists from British seaside resorts and deindustrialisation has driven away major employers and good jobs. Six of the ten poorest communities in the UK are now found on the coast

 

Each coastal town and city has local pressures and unique opportunities, but they share four common challenges:
1. They are poorer

Seaside neighbourhoods are 42% more likely to be in the worst decile for income deprivation than inland neighbourhoods, and half as likely to be in the best decile. The average coastal income before housing costs is £2,800 lower than inland. In the South East, the income gap is the largest in the country at £4,600.

2. They have more crime

The crime rate is 12% higher on the coast, with 114 crimes per 1,000 people on the coast compared to 102 inland. In the South West, the difference in crime rates is 19%. Antisocial behaviour is a particular seaside concern – rates of public order offences are 20% higher than inland.

3. They have poorer health

People living on the coast are 15% more likely to have an early, preventable death than those who live inland. Under-75s mortality rates from cancer are 9% higher on the coast – the largest gap is in the South East – where mortality is 17% higher than inland.

4. They have worse housing

Coastal property prices are a third lower than inland areas – despite small pockets of luxury housing in the South. These houses are also older and of poorer quality – a third of homes on the East of England seaside were built before 1945, compared to 23% inland. And 58% of these neighbourhoods in the East of England are below the national average for EPC rating compared to 30% inland.

 

The political cost

England’s coastal communities are proven political bellwethers at elections. They have disproportionately swung behind every winning party for four decades.

In 1987, Margaret Thatcher won almost three-quarters of the seaside seats. Ten years later, Tony Blair increased Labour’s share of seaside seats by 109%. Over four-fifths of these seats backed Brexit, and the Conservatives won 70% of them in 2019. But current polls show Labour is on course to win 77 of 113 coastal seats at the next election, doubling its share of these constituencies.

Returning the pride and purpose these communities once had offers a huge political win for whoever achieves it. The Government must act swiftly to place these areas on a more sustainable path. If they do not, the political penalty will be drastic.

Coastal undercurrents

Recommendations

Industry

Prior to the 2008 financial crisis, the coast’s economy grew at roughly the same rate as inland but has diverged dramatically since. These areas are now 10% less productive than inland areas – in the South East, this gap rises to 20%.

There is a much higher proportion of jobs in hospitality-related industries (25% compared to 20% inland) and 13% more workers in low-level occupations. This productivity gap is underpinned by low skill levels: the share of people qualified to degree level is seven percentage points lower compared to inland (28% vs. 35%).

And it is exacerbated by poor physical and digital connectivity. In the South West, for every job that a seaside resident could drive to in one hour, their inland neighbour could access nearly twice as many. Just 18% of homes on the East of England seaside have gigabit connectivity compared to 26% inland.

Seasonality

Workers in tourism-related industries are more likely to be part-time and undertaking temporary work – only 46% say they are happy with not being full-time, compared to 70% in other sectors.

There is a 22% increase in crime on England’s beaches in the summer, compared to 17% inland, which overwhelms local police forces and other first responders.

Tourists rely on second homes: two-thirds of neighbourhoods in which second homes make up more than 10% of the dwelling stock are by the beach. In Salcombe, Devon, 57% of homes are holiday homes.

Demography

There are 172 communities where the pension-age population is larger than the working-age population – 138 (80%) are by the seaside. They are also sicker, 20% of individuals have a disability compared to 17% inland.

The share of those aged 15 and over regularly smoking is 21% higher on the coast, and rates of alcoholism are 16% higher. These habits are underpinned by unhealthy environments: piers, boardwalks and highstreets that line the beach tend to have higher concentrations of fast food outlets than inland. Wards on the South East seaside have almost twice the number of fast food outlets as inland wards.

This older, sicker population is living in poor-quality housing – including a proliferation of former guesthouses and dilapidated properties in Households of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs).

 

Industry

Ministers should pilot a Coastal Economy Transformation Programme in three to five towns and cities, giving local leaders powers and resources to grow the private sector, boost connectivity and increase investment – learning from the Recompete Pilot in the United States.

A new set of pathfinder partnerships between colleges and local employers focussed on higher-level apprenticeships would address the low skills equilibrium and prevent the brain drain of talented young people to inland areas.

The Government should also leverage the attractiveness of seaside living and the rise of hybrid working to create a new wave of “coastal neighbourhoods” for young workers and families.

Seasonality

A new Coastal Surge Fund for Police and Crime Commissioners would build seasonal resilience, reducing crime and antisocial behaviour in the summer months.

The hidden costs of holiday homes could be met by allowing councils to raise property taxes on empty homes to invest the proceeds in the community and professionalising the short-lets industry.

Demography

Councils should be given greater freedom to use the planning system to improve public health and reduce obesity and smoking.

A loan forgiveness scheme should be introduced for medical students who continue their studies at trusts by the sea to relieve acute staffing pressures in the NHS and social care.

New “mobile health units,” pioneered in rural parts of Canada, could bring multi-agency diagnosis and treatment services to underserved communities with high levels of need.

And Ministers should take a bold step to crack down on sub-standard HMOs – reforming Local Housing Allowances, cracking down on rogue landlords, supporting regeneration through Compulsory Purchase Orders, and providing finance for repairs.

Coastal undercurrents

Industry

Prior to the 2008 financial crisis, the coast’s economy grew at roughly the same rate as inland but has diverged dramatically since. These areas are now 10% less productive than inland areas – in the South East, this gap rises to 20%.

There is a much higher proportion of jobs in hospitality-related industries (25% compared to 20% inland) and 13% more workers in low-level occupations. This productivity gap is underpinned by low skill levels: the share of people qualified to degree level is seven percentage points lower compared to inland (28% vs. 35%).

And it is exacerbated by poor physical and digital connectivity. In the South West, for every job that a seaside resident could drive to in one hour, their inland neighbour could access nearly twice as many. Just 18% of homes on the East of England seaside have gigabit connectivity compared to 26% inland.

Seasonality

Workers in tourism-related industries are more likely to be part-time and undertaking temporary work – only 46% say they are happy with not being full-time, compared to 70% in other sectors.

There is a 22% increase in crime on England’s beaches in the summer, compared to 17% inland, which overwhelms local police forces and other first responders.

Tourists rely on second homes: two-thirds of neighbourhoods in which second homes make up more than 10% of the dwelling stock are by the beach. In Salcombe, Devon, 57% of homes are holiday homes.

Demography

There are 172 communities where the pension-age population is larger than the working-age population – 138 (80%) are by the seaside. They are also sicker, 20% of individuals have a disability compared to 17% inland.

The share of those aged 15 and over regularly smoking is 21% higher on the coast, and rates of alcoholism are 16% higher. These habits are underpinned by unhealthy environments: piers, boardwalks and highstreets that line the beach tend to have higher concentrations of fast food outlets than inland. Wards on the South East seaside have almost twice the number of fast food outlets as inland wards.

This older, sicker population is living in poor-quality housing – including a proliferation of former guesthouses and dilapidated properties in Households of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs).

 

Recommendations

Industry

Ministers should pilot a Coastal Economy Transformation Programme in three to five towns and cities, giving local leaders powers and resources to grow the private sector, boost connectivity and increase investment – learning from the Recompete Pilot in the United States.

A new set of pathfinder partnerships between colleges and local employers focussed on higher-level apprenticeships would address the low skills equilibrium and prevent the brain drain of talented young people to inland areas.

The Government should also leverage the attractiveness of seaside living and the rise of hybrid working to create a new wave of “coastal neighbourhoods” for young workers and families.

Seasonality

A new Coastal Surge Fund for Police and Crime Commissioners would build seasonal resilience, reducing crime and antisocial behaviour in the summer months.

The hidden costs of holiday homes could be met by allowing councils to raise property taxes on empty homes to invest the proceeds in the community and professionalising the short-lets industry.

Demography

Councils should be given greater freedom to use the planning system to improve public health and reduce obesity and smoking.

A loan forgiveness scheme should be introduced for medical students who continue their studies at trusts by the sea to relieve acute staffing pressures in the NHS and social care.

New “mobile health units,” pioneered in rural parts of Canada, could bring multi-agency diagnosis and treatment services to underserved communities with high levels of need.

And Ministers should take a bold step to crack down on sub-standard HMOs – reforming Local Housing Allowances, cracking down on rogue landlords, supporting regeneration through Compulsory Purchase Orders, and providing finance for repairs.

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