Power of sea to renew towns

The ocean holds the potential to revive deprived coastal towns

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An initiative led by the New Economics Foundation is working to revitalise economic prospects for coastal communities by encouraging the government, NGOs and businesses to support the marine environment on which coastal areas depend.

Coastal towns are often identified as the most deprived areas in the UK, with towns such as Blackpool, Hartlepool and Skegness producing some of the country’s worst statistics on unemployment, crime and poor health.

A 2013 report by the Office for National Statistics found that 25 of the 31 big English seaside resorts (those with a resident population of more than 15,000) are now, on average, poorer than the rest of the country.

After the publication of the report, a Treasury spokesperson said coastal towns and villages had suffered from “economic decline and neglect”, but there was “huge potential for coastal towns to welcome new industries and diversify their economies” so they could “become year-round success stories”.

Since 2013, the New Economics Foundation has been developing its Blue New Deal initiative to understand what steps need to be taken to deliver more jobs, increased economic sustainability and resilience for coastal communities through a healthier coastal and marine environment.

Marine conservation

The Blue New Deal aims to help small fishing boats to maintain economic viability and support coastal communities in attracting visitors all year round.

Another priority is helping coastal communities to become centres of renewable energy while identifying areas along the coast that are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Fernanda Balata, the Blue New Deal’s project lead, said: “The New Economics Foundation has done a lot of work with marine conservation NGOs in the UK, so based on this experience that we’ve had on the marine coastal context and the marine coast economy we identified a need to talk about marine conservation from a different perspective.

“When we started looking at coastal communities in the UK we realised that there was a story about coastal communities being more disadvantaged than inland areas in terms of unemployment levels and deprivation. They also have quite unique challenges in terms of being more vulnerable to climate change.”

Balata and her team are working to highlight the fact that although coastal communities suffer from high unemployment and deprivation, the UK’s seas have the potential to provide communities with a prosperous future if assets such as energy and fishing are handed back to locals.

Balata said: “The core message we are sending is that communities should have greater ownership of local energy, so community energy projects are another thing that we are highlighting.

“Communities should have ownership of their local harbour if they want to, if they know what they want to do with it and how they want to develop it in a sustainable way.

“What we wanted to say is: how can we get more communities to be inspired to connect with their local assets and local resources and develop their own economic plan to make the most of these assets?”

Local voice

In order to complete their agenda, those working on the Blue New Deal aim to make connections between MPs, local businesses, investors and conservation volunteers to discuss ways coastal communities can benefit from the sea.

Balata said: “We’ve engaged with a number of MPs. It’s been interesting to see coastal MPs engaging with the initiative. I’ve seen MPs supporting local projects on the ground and taking the local voice back to Westminster. We want to inspire debates at Westminster levels but also devolved administration levels: Scottish government, Welsh government.

“From our end that’s how we see these things happening. It’s about bringing people together, highlighting positive stories and getting people to engage positively.”

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