Fixing Blackpool’s problems should be a key government focus and could end up helping all the UK’s seaside towns, a top report out this morning has concluded.
Following an investigation, the House of Lords has also called on the resort to be given a ‘town deal’, which could see tens of millions of pounds pumped into the area to tackle a raft of problems including dilapidated homes, low paying jobs, weak transport links, and stuttering digital connections. There should also be better access to further and higher education for young people, including free transport for students, while more must be done to attract teachers to the Fylde coast, the report said.
“By solving the problems in Blackpool, the government could identify a set of tools which enable them to tackle the problem in other seaside towns,” it said.
“If you can solve it there, you can solve it anywhere.”
So-called ‘town deals’ were announced as part of a £1.6 billion fund to breathe new life into communities across the country, and is being piloted in Grimsby, which was given a £60 million package to reverse decay, make jobs, and seal a brighter future for the North East Lincolnshire seaport.
Jake Berry, an east Lancashire MP and minister for the government’s Northern Powerhouse project, said the scheme “lends itself to coastal towns”.
He said the business secretary Greg Clark met with Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard to see “how we can advance a town deal for Blackpool”, and added: “If we can commit to it, it would be a good way to expand town deals to see how they work for other coastal towns.” Mr Maynard said: “I welcome this recommendation and am pleased to see progress being made in the delivery of a town deal for Blackpool. For several years I have been clear this is the right way forward, to deliver widespread improvements for our local community.
“I am fully supportive of the work of the Pride of Place partnership and the 30-year-vision they have laid out.
“In recent months, I have made the case to numerous ministers of the need for a town deal to address regeneration and Blackpool’s housing issues. I will continue to do all I can to fight for Blackpool and to help make this vision a reality.”
Blackpool South MP, Labour’s Gordon Marsden, who gave evidence to the committee, added: “I am delighted with the strong collection of recommendations the report makes.
“I am glad to see the issues around housing and deprivation have been taken on board and the recommendation for a town deal from government, particularly to boost schools and education standards, is welcome news which everyone can get behind.”
Towards the end of last year, the Pride Of Place partnership put together a town prospectus to boost the economy and tackle deprivation, and its members also welcomed the House of Lords Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns’ report.
Mark Adlestone, the chairman of jewellery firm Beaverbrooks, said: “The report’s analysis of the housing issues in Blackpool is spot on.
“It is a systemic issue that can only be fixed with a strong commitment from national government to work alongside local government until this problem is solved.”
And Neil Jack, the chief executive of Blackpool Council, said: “We know from experience that with the right sort of interventions, we can create a vibrant destination that has a thriving retail, leisure and accommodation offer, complemented by better housing, sustainable employment and a tangible sense of civic pride.”
Measures set out in the The future of seaside towns report include setting up specialist tourism zones, considering cutting VAT on souvenirs, focusing on improving the coastal transport network, and boosting digital connectivity. As part of the investigation, a panel spent two days in Blackpool and Fleetwood, meeting with council leaders.
The Rt Hon Lord Tom McNally, who lives in Poulton and is the baron of Blackpool, is a member of the select committee which put out the report. He said: “In Blackpool, they were particularly impressed by the leadership and the commitment from across all sectors in the town to solve its issues, build on its successes and secure its future.”
The chairman of the committee, Lord Bassam of Brighton, added: “For too long, seaside towns have been neglected. They suffer from issues rooted in the decline of their core industries, most notably domestic tourism, but also in fishing, shipbuilding and port activity, and from their location at the ‘end of the line’.”
He said a single solution did not exist, but “what is needed is a package of strategic initiatives and interventions where national and local government work together”.
Lord Bassam added: “The committee is confident that if our recommendations are pursued seaside towns can once again become prosperous and desirable places to live in and visit.”
The announcement of the town deals did lead to some controversy, however, with Green Party MP Caroline Lucas saying: “Ministers have taken bread from communities who were already starved of support, and now boast of their plans to hand back a few crumbs. This isn’t investment for areas in need – it’s a slap in the face.”
Blackpool Council bosses have been forced to cut spending at the authority by more than £140 million since 2011.
The Government should:
++ Secure town deals for Blackpool and other deprived seaside towns;
++ Bring in specialist coastal enterprise zones to create jobs;
++ Set up tourism ‘action zones’, and prioritise infrastructure, access to research to help develop tourism products, and support for businesses to develop digital skills;
++ Carry out more research into the potential impact of cutting VAT on tourism-related activities;
++ Remove barriers to development such as planning restrictions that limit change of use on port sites;
++ Prioritise improving transport links through the Department of Transport;
++ Improve digital connectivity to tackle the challenge of coastal towns on the periphery, reducing the need to commute;
++ Fund local councils to pay for free public transport for students over the age of 16 in coastal communities;
++ Consider a major marketing campaign to get teachers to join coastal schools;
++ Make working in the hospitality industry more alluring;
++ Determine whether councils need more powers to address problems in areas where there are large numbers of bedsits; and
++ Change the way housing allowance rates are calculated in areas with high densities of bedsits, consider tax relief to encourage improvements to properties, and pilot housing action zones.
What the Lords said in the report
Lord Knight of Weymouth, speaking about education, said: “The committee’s visit to Blackpool showed us a town that has strong primary schools, great further education and tangible efforts to bring sector-specific off-shoots of universities.
“However, the secondary schools are not performing well, despite investment from the Government’s Opportunity Area scheme.
“There appeared to be an absence of a co-ordinated leadership of this phase. These schools are also struggling to recruit the teachers they need to succeed.”
Talking about housing, Baroness Wyld said: “On our visit to Blackpool, we visited a number of housing developments created by the Blackpool Housing Company.
“The company, which is wholly owned by Blackpool Council, has been acquiring, converting or refurbishing homes for market rent in inner Blackpool since 2016.
“We were told that in two years, the Blackpool Housing Company has delivered 200 homes.”
And speaking about the town deal, Baroness Valentine said: “Blackpool’s tourism product will be reinvigorated by a new conference centre, new hotels and an attractive promenade.
“However, behind the front, there is chronic deprivation as a result of people from around Britain being drawn to Blackpool’s low-quality inner zone.
“We need a town deal with the Government to continue working to improve the area, so that one of the worst concentrations of deprivation in England is no longer a part of its most famous seaside resort.”
The panel also visited Fleetwood, and Baroness Wyld noted: “I was deeply impressed by the leadership demonstrated by a local GP, who has instigated a number of programmes aimed at improving the health of the local population.”
She added: “Three local GP practices have come together to approach the area’s problems. The key to all of this is, as far as possible, enabling people to improve their own health—to do things for themselves, rather than to be “done to”.
Lord McNally said: “In recent decades, Fleetwood has suffered a succession of setbacks which would have tested the fortitude of the most resilient of communities.
“Yet, the fishing industry for which it was once famous bred a strength in the local community which is helping to provide the basis of community action in the face of adversity.”