Decay and decline: Seaside towns desperate for investment

Sunday 11th August 2019 09:45 BST

MP for Hartlepool Mike Hill is leading the new all-party parliamentary group on coastal communities - which was created following a House of Lords report earlier this year which concluded that seaside towns had been neglected for too long.

Mr Hill told Sky News: "It's my honest opinion that we do need greater investment in our coastal communities; it's meaningful jobs, less seasonal work - all-year-round work - introduce and improving broadband to keep future generations in our coastal areas.

"There are issues around meaningful employment, growth, things for people to do, tapping into the ambitions of young people in particular is important - and not letting communities slide."

The Lords report into the future of seaside towns found young people living in them are being let down and "left behind by poor standards in existing provision, limited access to educational institutions and a lack of employment opportunities, resulting in low levels of aspiration".

The report also found there is an over-reliance on tourism, and that it will be "vital" to improve transport links in coastal areas.

"Transport infrastructure is appalling in most areas that service coastal communities. They are right on the end, hard to get to, quite often there is one railway line in and one railway line out. We need to see a massive improvement in our transport infrastructure," Mr Hill said.

Sky News visited Torbay in Devon - known as the English Riviera - a borough which is made up of three towns, Torquay, Paignton and Brixham.

But despite having a booming summer tourist sector, Torbay is one of the most deprived areas in England, with 25% of children living in poverty.

Ellie Waugh runs the charity Humanity Torbay, which helps those facing a range of problems, from homelessness to debt.

She said: "It's dire. I'm going to be quite honest with you, I go home and cry most nights.

"We have people turning up who haven't eaten for two or three days to feed their children, we've got kids who go to bed hungry here, we've got children who come into Humanity who've got holes in their shoes, we've got people on the streets for two years who haven't been able to find anywhere to live."

One woman - a 25-year-old who did not want to be identified - was receiving help from Humanity Torbay while we were there.

She said she was days away from being homeless and had battled with an addiction to the drug spice.

She told Sky News that Torquay is a fantastic place in the summer season for work, but not the rest of the year: "Great in the summer, absolutely booming in the summer, but it doesn't really help you when it comes to the winter unless you've got a stable full-time secure job.

"Even if you do try to go for a job, because of your age and lack of experience within the job industry, people look at that and think, 'ah well, you've not got the experience'."

In Paignton, thousands of tourists on their August holidays packed out the souvenir shops.

But despite a brisk trade, the owner of Mainline Gifts, Garry Webber, told us he is worried about the future.

"I fear we'll just become one of those - not necessarily a derelict town - an empty shell - the shops will just become charity shops - there'll be some shops here but even our major retailers are pulling out - we've already lost some major ones in the high street," he said.

An ageing population is another issue that coastal communities face. In Torbay, the number of people aged over 85 is expected to rise by 56% in the next decade.

That increase puts a strain on social care budgets and reduces the working age population, making it less attractive for big business to move in to the area.

Torbay Council is drawing up plans to attract £100m of investment into the area - but as yet the money is not in place.

Liberal Democrat council leader Steve Darling says he is determined to "turn the tide" on poverty in Torbay.

Addressing a question in the Commons on the issue, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "Too often they have been forgotten, their infrastructure has been forgotten, and our programme is to unite this country with infrastructure and technology to not just cities around the country but to rural and coastal communities as well."

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