Hastings may appear to be ‘on the up’ – but on housing, jobs and transport links, it is being left behind
Disadvantaged seaside towns like Hastings face massive problems, requiring urgent government action, according to a hard-hitting House of Lords report* out this month (April 4).
Peter Chowney, Labour parliamentary candidate for Hastings & Rye and leader of Hastings Borough Council, said: “Hastings suffers from poor transport links, poor health outcomes, high unemployment, and a lack of the kinds of skills that employers need.
“In some parts of town, economic and social deprivation remain a damaging problem, with intergenerational worklessness and poor health blighting communities.”
According to the Government’s own Indices of Deprivation, in 2015 Hastings was one of 10 local authorities – all coastal towns – with the lowest average employee pay.
The Lords select committee report says the bucket and spade heyday of seaside resorts in the 50s and 60s is long-gone, and they now faced “persistent disadvantages” compared with elsewhere in Britain.
It notes: “Young people in seaside towns 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.”
And it argues that “investment from central government must be focused on supporting sustainable, long-term regeneration, not piecemeal, short-term initiatives.” In a key recommendation, it urges “the restoration and enhancement of the public realm and of cultural heritage assets through capital investment”.
Pressure to ensure a fairer housing market
The report also urges government intervention to ensure a fairer housing market – something which Labour has consistently argued for. The high level of homes of multiple occupation (HMOs) add to the problems, along with poor maintenance by landlords and insecure tenancies.
It says the “sheer scale of the problems… mean that many coastal areas are making only very limited headway relative to the size of the problems they are experiencing”.
At the moment there are “perverse financial incentives to offer poor accommodation”. To turn this around it recommends, among other measures, changes to the calculation of local housing allowance that more accurately reflect local market rents and more power for local authorities to enforce standards.
On regeneration it notes that local authorities, alongside business and community leaders, have a crucial role to play in providing vision, leadership and enforcement, enabling partnerships, and setting a favourable planning environment.
It gives as an example its ideal, a made-up town called Seaminster, which it says has got it right:
Creativity, sustainability and wellbeing were put at the heart of the endeavour, both as a means of diversifying and growing the local economy, and as an accessible way of getting the whole community on board with the process of change. Local champions emerged, and a public debate was held in the local media about what the community’s priorities should be. Gradually, an ambitious plan was forged: multi-faceted, inclusive, building from the grassroots up. Jointly, the groups approached the local council. Although hard-pressed financially, the council agreed to put its weight – and a small amount of resource – behind the emerging vision for Seaminster’s renewal.
Sound familiar? Hastings borough council has supported the town’s many festivals and has an ambitious plan to revitalise the Bohemia / White Rock area with new performance and leisure facilities. The efforts of the creative community are also making Hastings an attractive town to visit.
But above all, the Lords report is a call for radical action. The actions of Hastings & Rye MP Amber Rudd have been anything but.
In response to a visit to Hastings last July by Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell, Ms Rudd went on social media to deny that life in Hastings was anything other than rosy.
In a video shot on Hastings pier she said: “This is a town that has received record investment since 2010 and is really getting the benefits of that. We are not ‘left behind’ – we are proud and excited by our town and by the opportunities here.”
There was very little hard evidence offered of this ‘record investment’. And certainly little that Ms Rudd and her government can take much, if any, of the credit for.
Peter Chowney says: “Significant economic and physical regeneration has taken place in recent years, with the cultural and creative sectors playing an important part, and the seafront in particular transformed and revitalised.”
Much of this was down to the council’s efforts in attracting grants, some of them from the European Union. However, this is not enough.
“We need serious investment over the longer term in Hastings, not just one-off time-limited special projects that rarely do more than scrape the surface of these deep-seated problems. And we need strategic, properly planned improvements to the transport infrastructure.
“So the report doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t know already about seaside towns. But it does help to highlight the problems many seaside town have faced for a long time, and haven’t gone away.
“While ‘reinventing’ the local economy is a way forward, as the report suggests, we need planned, long-term investment to break the cycle of deprivation in our poorest communities, and create the right conditions to generate a thriving economy that benefits all our citizens.”
* Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities: The future of seaside towns, published 4 April 2019.