Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Seaside Towns and Deprivation

Hastings, East Sussex
In March of this year the Government produced the latest Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) which is based on 2010 statistics. Previous Indices were produced in 2007 and 2004. Having worked over half my adult life with charities in the field of poverty and deprivation, I am always interested in the latest IMD's. As over twenty years was spent in a seaside town, I wanted to see how it, and other seaside towns were faring in the area of deprivation. I have looked at the figures and reports from Blackpool (North West), Hastings (East Sussex) and Margate (Kent). It could well have been any number of other medium to large seaside towns in England, as a common picture unfolds.

The Indices of Multiple Deprivation measures deprivation across seven areas:
  • Income
  • Employment
  • Health & Disability
  • Housing & Access to Services
  • Education
  • Crime
  • Living Environment
Looking at the Indices from 2004, 2007 and 2010, there is no doubt that Seaside towns are becoming more deprived. The 11 most deprived seaside towns have all got worse from 2004 - 2010. Blackpool is the most deprived seaside town, and 6th most deprived area in England, while Hastings is the 2nd most deprived seaside town, and 19th most deprived area in England.

A study done in Margate on why some seaside towns are struggling, could have been written for most seaside towns in England. Of some importance are structural barriers to growth.
  1. The 180 degree factor - Their position by the sea imposes limits on growth as they can only expand in one direction. In some places, the surrounding topography, such as steep hills, imposes further limitations. Most inland towns have 360 degrees to work with.
  2. Isolation - Smaller coastal towns are peripheral outposts on main transport routes, limiting access to the jobs and services located in towns and cities within the surrounding sub-region. This makes it difficult to attract new-comers who can bring economic benefit to the area.
  3. Vulnerability to climate change - The predictions for rising sea levels, and erosion rates that go along with it, can be a problematic factor in public and private investment decisions about growth and development in some seaside towns.
The growth of seaside resorts from the late 1800's was driven by the expansion of the domestic tourism industry, but for the last 30 - 40 years there has been decline as people wanted something more from their holidays, and low-cost European package holidays provided this. Too many seaside towns have failed to come to grips with these changes, with the result being significant economic under-achievement, or what one report says of a North Wales resort as "economic inertia".

There are some key reasons why many seaside towns are struggling, and continue to be spotlighted in the Indices of Multiple Deprivation.
  • Failure to diversify economically -  The fundamental driver of deprivation in many struggling seaside towns is the failure to move on from a reliance on the traditional seaside economy and create a new economic purpose. Successful seaside towns have updated and re-marketed their traditional offer. To stand still means to die.
  • Low-wage, low-skill job markets - A consequence of the failure to diversify is the dominance of low-wage, low-skill job in the declining tourism industry. In Blackpool, 31% of working-age adults have no formal qualifications. Some places also rely heavily on public sector jobs, which are under threat from Government cuts, and in Margate, 47% of jobs are in public administration.
  • High levels of incapacity - Research by the Department for Trade and Industry suggest that 9.3% of working-age adults in seaside towns claim Incapacity Benefit. This figure is 18% in Margate.
  • Unfit housing stock - Many seaside towns are full of hotels and guest houses which served the tourism trade but are now not fit for other uses such as family accommodation, and have been turned into hostels or houses of multiple occupation.
  • Low demand and low prices - The amount of cheap rental accommodation has served to attract in vulnerable individuals. Hastings has suffered from this. The poor quality of the stock and the out-migration of younger households has created a cycle of low demand and low prices. This in turn has encouraged more affluent families to look elsewhere.
  • In-migration of vulnerable households - The availability of cheap rented accommodation has created concentrations of vulnerable households, including statutorily homeless families, care-leavers and ex-offenders. In addition, the practices of local authorities in placing many of their 'unwanted' in seaside towns has contributed to a demographic imbalance. The British Urban Regeneration Association has described coastal towns as "dumping grounds for people facing problems such as unemployment, social exclusion and substance dependency". I have first hand knowledge of this in Hastings and Eastbourne.
  • Some areas have been stigmatised as a result, and struggle to successfully re-brand and market what they have to offer.
The Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) help to focus the mind on deprived areas. Some ask do these Indices matter? They most certainly do for at least four reasons.
  1. The Government uses them to target where regeneration programmes are to take place.
  2. Sure Start and Children's Centres were based on the most deprived areas according to the IMD.
  3. Many of the National Lottery grants are targeted at the most deprived areas based on the IMD.
  4. Stamp duty on property and land transactions were reduced in deprived areas, based on the IMD.
There are well researched reasons for decline in many seaside towns, and complicated factors that hinder the approach to change, but there are also lessons that can be copied from those who have made a transition from the old to the new. Among many initiatives that have been, and will be tried, undoubtedly the key driver is economic diversity. The Margate report says, "There is no magic bullet for struggling seaside towns, but local initiatives suggest that there are practical approaches and models of intervention which can be adapted".

The coastline of Great Britain runs for just over 11,000 miles, and around 3 million people live on the coast. Seaside towns are an important part of our heritage, and I very much hope that they will be an important part of our future.

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