We need a dedicated strategy to re-generate our deprived coastal communities
Coastal communities are integral to the United Kingdom’s environmental, social, and economic well-being.
The Covid-19 pandemic profoundly impacted our coastal communities, exposing and exacerbating social and economic structural challenges that need an urgent and coordinated response for a sustainable recovery.
We have long been a proud maritime nation, historically relying on our coastal communities to help deliver national prosperity but, today, too many face shared challenges and disproportionately high levels of deprivation. If given the necessary social, economic, and environmental support and investment, our coastal communities can be an even greater national resource, rather than a problem requiring a solution.
Our coastal communities offer a wealth of nature-based opportunities to help combat climate change and drive social and economic benefits.
Specific action is required to generate higher wages and higher skilled jobs
Proper investment in coastal restoration and adaptation projects offer opportunities for often low-income coastal communities. Restoring and maintaining blue carbon habitats in our seas could create jobs directly in conservation, and indirectly in nature-based tourism, helping to level up our coastal communities. Our coast is also at the forefront of the green industries, such as the UK’s world-leading offshore wind developments.
While coastal communities have unleashed nature-based potential for renewable energy industries, far too many of them are unfortunately socially and economically deprived. Take my beautiful constituency of Hastings and Rye, for example. We have seen an increase in homelessness (including hidden homelessness) due to a lack of affordable and quality housing. We also suffer from detrimental patterns of selective in- and out-migration, high rates of substance misuse and alcohol abuse, physical and mental health problems, and poor criminal justice outcomes too.
Professor Chris Whitty’s annual report, Health in Coastal Communities (2021), highlights that coastal areas have some of the worst health outcomes in England, with lower average life expectancies and higher rates of major diseases. The disparity in physical and mental health between coastal communities and their inland neighbours is very concerning.
I welcome the recommendations of report, including a national strategy for coastal communities – but any strategy must look beyond health alone. Tackling the underlying drivers of poor health and proportionately using NHS resources will prevent ill-health in the long-term, benefitting coastal communities and the whole of the UK.
High levels of deprivation, driven in part by major and longstanding challenges with local economies and employment, are key drivers of poor health outcomes in these communities. In order for the government to bring about meaningful change and boost livelihoods across the country, coastal communities must be at the heart of levelling up.
A poll commissioned by Maritime UK last year revealed that coastal communities are set to lose 49 per cent of their young people amid employment concerns. To date, coastal regeneration funding has largely focused on heritage, recreational, and arts projects which are important, but it is clear that specific action is required to generate higher wages and higher skilled jobs.
The Coastal Powerhouse Manifesto sets out proposals to extend freeports benefits to all coastal areas, boost connectivity, develop new skills, and install a shore power network across the coast to provide the infrastructure to charge tomorrow’s electric vessels.
Challenges faced by coastal communities are unique and a specific coastal plan needs to be supported by a dedicated minister for coastal communities who can work across government with the help of a specific cross-departmental taskforce.
Tourism, maritime, creative, sustainable fishing, food, renewable energy, and environmental industries in our coastal communities have the potential to be world leaders but need specific recognition and investment from government to accomplish this.
2023 is the Year of the Coast, celebrating the diversity of our coast and communities. Let us make it a year to spring to action and ensure that coastal communities are at the heart of the government’s levelling up plans.
Sally-Ann Hart is the Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye.
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