Last week in the House of Lords, Steve Bassam introduced a report entitled “Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities – The future of seaside towns” At one point in his introduction Steve explained that the Government had responded and one of their comments had been “coastal communities are comparatively more deprived and on average underperform economically in comparison to other areas”, and that, despite investment to date, “there is more that needs to be done by Government and all stakeholders”. Clearly one of the reasons why coastal areas are less successful in economic terms than other areas is because they are not surrounded by land and have limited places for people to go to for jobs and can only benefit from people coming into their towns or cities from limited directions. Although not all residents of Sussex live in coastal communities, the reality is that outside of Crawley which is at the centre of what is referred to as the Gatwick Diamond and which along with the Northern parts of West Sussex is on the border of Surrey, that most other communities in East and West Sussex are not much stronger in economic terms than their neighbouring coastal communities as the two Counties are rural and travelling in and out of most villages and towns is far from easy for people without cars. This was a theme raised by Joan Bakewell who spoke about locations where a lack of public transport is a critical part of the problem. Thankfully that is not the case in Brighton and Hove and it is not the case in Crawley or some of the larger coastal towns. However it seems vital that in the solutions which the Government claims it will offer to coastal locations that they do not limit their approach to one or two miles inland from the coast but that they look at a broader approach to how whole communities are impacted. Our neighbour Kent is similarly affected with their extensive coastal communities which connect to rural communities that equally lack the resources needed to enable transport schemes and large businesses to invest in such settings.
Along with the theme of transport and economics is that of education. Joan Bakewell spoke specifically about Brighton on that subject but missed one vital element. She explained in discussing about parts of the East of England “Their chances of higher education need major attention—we have seen the difference that the University of Sussex made to the economy of Brighton. Of course, that is not going to happen in many seaside resorts” Given that I live in Brighton following my course at what was once called Brighton Polytechnic and that many other people did the same, our economy has benefited substantially from the two Universities in our city, not just from one! However it was not only Joan who spoke about coastal education challenges. On the same day Tim Loughton was speaking in the House of Commons about education and stated “Last week’s Department for Education report referred to the fact that children in schools in coastal areas achieve several grades lower than other children, certainly at GCSE level. My constituents therefore suffer from the double whammy of being in one of the lowest funded local authorities for schools, and the serious challenge to schools in pockets of deprivation, often in coastal areas, of which there are many on the south coast as well as in other parts of the country.” A few days earlier Huw Merriman spoke about a specific school in his constituency “Broad Oak School in my constituency is under threat of closure. It is heavily dependent on its pupil ratio, but the number of pupils it has is down by about 60%. The wider area is down by 20%. What more can the Department do to encourage local authorities to make sure that we build the homes in the areas where we have falling rolls at schools?” The fact is that the same challenge exists in many other rural communities across Sussex where Schools are under threat of closure and even where they are relatively sustainable, the budget available to them is much lower than in larger settings. It seems vital that as the Government sets out to assist coastal communities, that we can persuade all of our MPs and Peers to demand support for areas such as East and West Sussex along with Brighton and Hove. The promise by the Government is “[we] will have invested almost £227 million in the Great British Coast by 2020” which seems like small change compared to what the prospective Prime Ministers are currently promising to spend on other ideas!