Can a Rising Tide ‘Level’ All Boats in UK Coastal Towns?

Holly Lewis, Co-founding Partner

01 November 2021

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside! Don’t we? The last year has forced many to reconsider their priorities, particularly with regard to quality of life and where we choose to live. Property sites like Rightmove are reporting huge increases in searches for coastal locations, and chances are that many of us will be opting for the ubiquitous ’stay-cation’ this year for our summer holidays, and will be searching out a beach. All of this points to opportunities for the UK’s coastal towns in the coming months and years.

Engrained challenges – significant and long-standing issues of deprivation, legible and increasing inequality and gentrification – can still be found in so many coastal towns.

This is not confined by the ‘north-south divide’, and includes many areas of the south east, where we at We Made That have been working recently: Margate, Folkestone and Ramsgate to name a few. For these places, there has been a ‘double-whammy’ of Covid 19 impact. As well as being amongst the hardest hit in terms of health outcomes (though the geographic picture changes week-by-week), these coastal places often rely disproportionately heavily on sectors that have been most affected by the pandemic. Hospitality and tourism, whilst being the very same sectors that now give us reason to be cautiously hopeful, have been heavily restricted and heavily challenged. Those in precarious seasonal or casual employment may still not know if they can return to their jobs as the final stages of lockdown are eased and the medium-to-long term future of leisure destinations, restaurants and pubs becomes clearer.

As the government invests in recovery through programmes such as Levelling Up Fund, Towns Deal and Future High Street Fund, local authorities will need to make extra efforts to ensure that the benefits of this regeneration spending are felt where they are most needed. This means careful consideration of the full social and economic impacts of spending proposals. Recent re-drafting of the government’s ‘Green Book’ to encompass a wider range of outcomes can support this approach.

Through our work in Kent’s coastal towns, we have been seeking to make plans for equitable benefits by championing ambitious community engagement in developing proposals, focusing on social outcomes from capital spending, exploring new community ownership structures and explicitly seeking to redress historic locational imbalances in regeneration activity.

We can not assume that the rising tide of regeneration will ‘lift the boats’ of those communities who are most in need in our coastal places – history tells us this. Only by listening to these communities and developing carefully considered proposals with them can we hope to ‘level up’ the imbalances that have affected them for so long.

We Made That, working with PRD, have newly secured £19.8m funding for Ramsgate as part of the Levelling Up Fund.