The #seasider tour was amazing. I’m going to try to do it twice a year – there’s still plenty of seaside to talk to. I did some great North Welsh coast trips a few years ago and I’ve had some fabulous days in Margate, but I want to do it properly. The DTA’s role is all about ‘pollination’ – going from trust to trust, town to town, council to council, business to business, listening, absorbing, making connections, sharing information and ideas, helping to weave a big picture from all the local stories. This level of fine-grain understanding will be a prerequisite of the new regeneration.
You can’t say Localism Localism Localism, offer a chance to consider ‘natural economic areas’ and then tell towns that they’re not allowed to do their own thing. This is happening right now all over the country and it’s not on. Take three classic seaside towns:
- Hastings – desperately in need of economic growth fund investment. With 42% of local employment in the public sector we could face meltdown. We have some key assets that could help unleash the latent civic pride visible in bursts throughout the town. But our LEP will either be East Sussex county or Sussex wide. The latter would bring in Brighton – no bad thing in terms of understanding the real puller of the South Coast economy. But neither are likely to prioritise the seaside, despite the Fothergill report and Cameron’s speech about the importance of seaside tourism in economic growth.
- Scarborough – Queen of the East, has found a model that works – dedicated council offers who know what they’re doing and make great things happen (Open Air Theatre, Woodend, Spa Complex, Town Teams, etc). Will you starve them? Without Yorkshire Forward it will be much, much harder – the relationships took years to build. But their LEP looks like it will be county-wide as well – the ‘coast and moors’ will continue to dominate an agenda that needs to let itself be ‘seaside’.
- Blackpool – where the relationships are written on road-signs. Blackpool’s achievement of unitary status was not without its bruising moments. There are signs as you leave the town saying ‘Welcome to Lancashire – where people matter’! And now the county, focused on Preston, may get to form the LEP. Typically brave, Blackpool & Fylde & Wyre are going ahead in putting forward an expression of interest (to match the area they have just spent money and effort creating a multi-area agreement and a brand new economic development company).
Sorry if all this sounds a bit blunt but we are talking about the control of the inflow of capital and that means power. It is foolish to pretend that this is some nice lunchtime strategy group. If ministers ignore this then Localism really will be a lie.
Now this is counter-intuitive but I’m suggesting it anyway… I think it would be good to express an interest in forming a Seaside Enterprise Partnership – an economic development partnership made up of seaside people with the legitimacy to access the ‘Regional Growth Fund’ in order to provide direct support to the economies of seaside towns in need.
A place where seaside towns can go and not be looked at like they’re weird throwbacks. People think I’m strange because I know a bit about piers – but piers are the flags that show the health (or otherwise) of seaside towns and it’s about time people in the cities and the shires gave a bit of ground to let them flourish. If a London Borough or a metropolitan city houses children straight out of care, ex-offenders, drug users, returning servicemen and others in need by the sea then let them pay a cross-council tax, rather than just the B&B charge. Let’s have more of the #seasider shops in the city centres to remind people that the seaside is a great place to spend disposable income (such as it is these days). And for god’s sake let the seaside towns themselves decide on seaside strategy rather than regurgitating semi-relevant Whitehall commitments as if they’re great favours.
Rant over… till next the next tide.