How rising sea level threatens resort of Blackpool

Most of us might think climate change is about shrinking glaciers and over-heated desert regions – but seaside towns like Blackpool could also suffer serious consequences from increases in the earth’s temperature.
Experts have warned of a two-metre rise in sea levelsExperts have warned of a two-metre rise in sea levels
Experts have warned of a two-metre rise in sea levels

For if sea level rises of up to two metres – as predicted by some experts – do happen, the storms that regularly batter the Fylde coast will become more powerful in years to come.

And it could mean our Victorian heritage faces a perilous battle to survive, in particular the resort’s three piers which extend into the often tempestuous Irish Sea.

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But the threat is not being ignored, which is why Blackpool has just hosted an international conference on climate change.

The three-day Sea Change Conference saw speakers from 13 countries gather in the Winter Gardens to share theories and ideas about how the multi-billion pound global tourism industry can survive environmental shifts.

It might not seem as vital as saving polar bears from diminishing ice caps, or preserving human settlements in zones predicted to heat up until they become uninhabitable.

But tourism is one of the world’s biggest industries – and most of it is on the coast, including destinations like Blackpool.

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The resort was chosen to host the conference because its three historic piers have been placed on the prestigious World Monuments Fund.

The Victorian structures could have to withstand more frequent severe weather in future if climate change leads to increased storm surges.

In 2013, £1m of damage was caused to North Pier after gale force winds tore through the structure – demonstrating the type of threat faced.

Nick Davies, an expert in sustainable tourism from the University of Salford, warned coastal areas would see the worst impacts of global warming if sea levels rose by the 2m forecast.

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He said: “So when we get extreme weather, it will be even more extreme and storm surges will be greater on the coast.

“Also a lot of destinations have become more urbanised and that becomes more of a problem.”

He also suggested due to rising heat levels in some parts of the world there could be “pole-ward shifts in tourism in future” meaning “coastal tourism in some temperate areas may benefit”.

So in future people might actually go in search of cooler climes to spend their leisure time in. Perhaps this will provide Blackpool with an opportunity to once more be the preferred holiday destination for folk who these days prefer to jet off to the Mediterranean.

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But the Fylde coast also needs to be prepared, and in recent years hundreds of millions of pounds has been spent on replacing our sea defences.

In his welcome address to delegates, Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn said this work had “improved our resilience to some elements of climate change, particularly sea level rises”.

But he warned: “Like everybody else, we are still subject to the effects of extreme weather events, particularly storm surges and flooding.

“The inclusion of our three piers on the World Monuments Watch for 2018/19 demonstrates how serious we are about raising awareness and using partnerships to find solutions to these challenges.”

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And with tourism such a valuable economic asset, not just to Blackpool but to resorts all around the world, the issue is one many leaders are addressing.

The experiences of locations ranging from Venice to Tasmania were shared between delegates.

Samantha Richardson, director of the National Coastal Tourism Academy, said putting forward the economic case to government would help to protect our coastlines from the impact of climate change.

Carl Carrington, built heritage and conservation manager at Blackpool Council, who organised the conference, said he now hopes to build on the expertise shared.