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Coastal towns in severe decline after decades of neglect, says think-tank

Centre for Social Justice calls for regeneration of seaside resorts

Many of Britain’s coastal towns have fallen so far into decline it could take huge injections of public money over decades to bring them up to scratch, experts have warned.

In its Turning the Tide: Social Justice in Five Seaside Towns report (attached), published on 4 August, independent think tank the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) said seven of the top 20 areas for out-of-work benefit payments were in coastal resorts.

The CSJ, which was set up by former Tory party leader Iain Duncan Smith in 2004, singled out Margate, Blackpool, Clacton-on-Sea, Great Yarmouth and Rhyl as seaside towns where living standards have plummeted.

CSJ director Christian Guy said: ‘Living standards in some of the UK’s best known coastal towns have declined beyond recognition and locals are now bearing the brunt of severe levels of social breakdown.

‘Some of these areas have been left behind. We must ramp up efforts to revive Britain’s coastal towns, not just for visitors but for the people who live there.’

The report said the prevalence of ‘houses in multiple occupation’ – where hotels and guesthouses have been taken over by landlords and crammed with tenants – was a major factor in the declining fortunes of the towns.

Guy Hollaway, whose Hythe and London-based practice has worked in Margate, home of David Chipperfield’s Turner Contemporary art gallery, said the key to success was to let towns recover at their own pace.

‘Regeneration takes a generation,’ he said.

‘People tend to want things now, but when a place changes, it’s better that it changes gradually; then the morphology and the character of the town comes through.’

Most of the towns identified in the CSJ report have been the subject of recent masterplans and high-profile architectural competitions. And architecture watchdog CABE launched a £45 million Sea Change push for regeneration of coastal towns in 2007. But the initiatives have met with limited success.

Planning and urban design expert Shelagh McNerney warned that there wasn’t a ‘nice, twee architectural solution’.

She said: ‘It will either take many decades to change or there will need to be a massive injection of public money.’

However, coastal successes such as Brighton and Southend, which is expanding its airport, suggest recovery is possible. Design guru Wayne Hemingway said Margate had ‘the most brilliant opportunity for the future’.

‘All the people who now flock to East London because they can get a decent pizza, and not just to get their beard trimmed – the coastal resorts have got to look at attracting that demographic,’ he said.

Most recent attempts to revive seaside towns

Rhyl

2007 Modus’ Ocean Beach regeneration scheme collapses.

2009 Scarborough Development Group’s Ocean Plaza scheme on the Ocean Beach site mothballed.

2013 SDG given two-year extension of planning permission for Ocean Plaza.

Margate

2011 Chipperfield’s Turner Contemporary opens.

2012 Dreamland Amusement Park site subject of CPO, paving way for £10 million. Coney Island-style attraction.

2012 Named as ‘Portas Pilot’.

Chipperfield’s Turner Contemporary in Margate

Source: KILIAN O’SULLIVAN / VIEW

Chipperfield’s Turner Contemporary in Margate

Clacton-on-sea

2009-11 New helter-skelter and rollercoaster added to pier.

Blackpool

2007 Singled out in CABE’s £45 million Sea Change plan.

2007 AMEC with RTKL Associates appointed to design. £220m Talbot Gateway scheme.

2012 Construction of Talbot Gateway starts.

Great Yarmouth

2011 Great Yarmouth regeneration 1st East folds; council’s head of regeneration dismissed. Yarmouth named as government enterprise zone.

2012 Hopkins Architects restores historic St George’s Chapel in King Street.

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