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Reviving Britain’s Coast – Why It’s Time to Help Communities on the Edge

Communities on Britain’s coastline have fallen behind the rest of the country but the government could unlock their potential by adjusting its Levelling Up policy, according to research published today (Wednesday 1st February 2023).

Household income in coastal areas is almost £3,000 per year lower than in non-coastal communities, with nearly one in five jobs below the living wage – a greater proportion than for England overall.

Low pay is one of a wide range of disadvantages detailed in Communities on the edge,a study commissioned by the Coastal Communities Alliance, the Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group and the Coastal Partnerships Network  from Pragmatix Advisory.

Community leaders in coastal areas are calling for sustained, long-term  investment to address the unfair disparities between coastal and non-coastal parts of Britain.

Councillor Ernest Gibson, Chair of the LGA Coastal SIG and Lead Member for Transport and Neighbourhoods at South Tyneside Council, said: “The coastal fringe is home to some of the most unique yet fragile communities within the country. Their position on the periphery provides them with a host of opportunities as well as challenges. The government must consider sustainable long-term solutions to allow our valuable coastal communities to thrive, maximise the significant opportunities that exist around tourism and the green economy, and build more resilience into their futures.”

Sally-Ann Hart MP,  chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Coastal Communities says:  “The additional challenges faced by people living on the coast are so entrenched that help is needed from central government to stop them falling further behind.

“Our beautiful coastline is an incredible national asset.  But it urgently needs sustainable long-term investment to make the most of the opportunities for growth – particularly in green jobs which can support the government’s climate goals.”

The research reveals there is a risk the government’s existing Levelling Up agenda fails to identify the massive challenges faced by coastal communities.  

Its 2022 Levelling Up White Paper analyses performance at a regional or city regional level, missing hidden disparities contained in more local data.

For example, the East of England has the third highest regional average weekly pay, although parts of the region have some of the lowest  earnings in the country. The hidden problem of low pay is revealed in data available at district, rather than regional level.

Ministers should consider using the more detailed data to target the  communities most in need, and make sure coastal areas do not miss out on Levelling Up, says the report.

The study reveals many ways in which coastal communities remain in danger of being left behind non-coastal areas.

In coastal communities:

  • A higher proportion of children live in workless households.
  • Disabled people are less likely to find work.
  • There is a damaging “digital divide” with gigabit broadband and 4G provision lagging behind.
  • A lower proportion of children achieve GCSE qualifications in maths and English.
  • Children are more likely to be persistently absent from school.
  • People suffer poorer health outcomes, with higher rates of depression, suicide, alcohol-related hospital admissions, and emergency admissions for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
  • There are fewer council houses, leading to a greater reliance on the private rented sector where housing costs are higher.
  • Cost of living pressures are more keenly felt, particularly in peripheral areas where it is impossible to access cheaper mains gas.

The report says some of the challenges faced by coastal communities have developed over years or decades, and will require longer term funding strategies.

It says the government should consider:

  • Changing the local government funding formula to better reflect deprivation and the needs of coastal communities.
  • Long term, sustainable funding to support projects across their full lifespan – at the moment help for coastal communities is often time-limited.
  • Strategic funding which would allow authorities to merge different streams to achieve levelling up in coastal communities.

The right support would boost growth and see coastal areas contribute far more to the wider UK economy, says the report.

Increases in home and hybrid working are an opportunity for coastal communities to attract more skilled and highly paid workers.

Coastal areas already generate more renewable energy than the national average, and investment in offshore wind farms, wave and tidal power has the potential for even more sustainable growth.

Investing in year-round tourism would offer coastal communities the chance to benefit from huge growth in the UK’s visitor economy.

The Communities on the edge study is being discussed at the next meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coastal Communities today.

Read the full report on the Coastal Communities website.