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Seaside town regeneration report: How to revive Britain’s industrial port towns

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In its regenerating seaside towns report, the House of Lords Select Committee called for the government’s help in enabling Britain’s coastal communities to once again become prosperous and desirable places to live in, work in and visit.

However, when considering British coastal towns, there is a distinction to be made between traditional holiday destinations and more industrial port towns, according to Andy Rumfitt, national lead for economic development at AECOM.

It is easy to see that some coastal towns have always been industrial rather than typical tourist destinations. Their industrial heritage can be seen in the real estate portfolio – the presence of derelict buildings, contaminated brownfield land and high retail vacancy rates on the high street.These more industrial port towns, such as Newhaven – a channel ferry port in East Sussex linked in Dieppe in France – are often seeking a new economic focus and identity, often in the context of significant labour force challenges.

Andy Rumfitt

National Lead for Economic Development, AECOM

Andy continued, “Culture-led regeneration presents opportunities for coastal towns like Newhaven. But, for such initiatives to be successful, they need to be part of a wider, co-ordinated regeneration framework.”

Developing distinctive strategies

Andy added: “A clear long-term delivery focus is required on a small number of fundable projects that can hit the ground running. As well as growing and attracting businesses, this may involve improving public realm and creating a well-designed townscape.

“The key challenge for towns like Newhaven is developing a distinctive strategy to leverage assets through long-term spatial planning and by focusing on key, long-term enablers, such as increasing literacy, numeracy and skills in line with future job opportunities, while securing short term wins to show progress, generate momentum and win over sceptics.

“Some coastal towns, like Newhaven, appear to have turned their backs on the waterfront – a beach is closed, for example – and the people living there may have lost the historically strong connection to the water that previous generations had.

“The waterfront could be an asset, rather than something perceived as dirty or unattractive. People enjoy spending time near waterfronts so making better use of it is a big opportunity for coastal towns.”

Newhaven Image

So, what does the future have in store for seaside communities?

Victoria Brambini, managing director at Perfect Circle, said: “It is clear that economic and social change – such as flexible holiday entitlements, package deals and cheap air travel – have had an impact on the fortune of coastal towns.

“If you add a lack of good quality transport connectivity into the equation, it is easy to see why these communities are in desperate need of regeneration. Brighton is a testament to how good quality travel links – with more than 300 trains running between London and Brighton every day – can benefit a seaside community’s economic fortunes.

“Another factor in revitalising coastal towns is education. The likes of Bournemouth, Southampton and Aberystwyth rely on universities and students for their contribution to the local economy – with education investment also bringing cultural investment.

A single solution to these challenges doesn’t exist. Instead, a package of strategic initiatives where local and national government – along with businesses, local communities and the construction industry – work together is needed to address these issues and ensure our much-loved seaside towns thrive once more.

Andy Rumfitt

National Lead for Economic Development, AECOM