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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 March 2007, 08:49 GMT
Seaside towns tackle faded glamour
Boats in the harbour
Bridlington suffers severe poverty and deprivation

A report by the communities and local government select committee says the government should do more to help coastal towns.

BBC environment correspondent Sarah Mukherjee visits one town where residents face the twin threats of deprivation and coastal erosion.

It's a glorious sight. A single sweep of coast, from the white chalk cliffs to the north, around the bay to Bridlington, and on to Skipsea, framed by a light turquoise sky, and lapped by a gentle sea.

But the rolling waves, that metronomically lull the dogwalkers and the holidaymakers into a slow amble that matches the water's ebb and flow, can also lash this coast, ripping away chunks of sand and stone. It's one of the fastest eroding coastlines in Europe.

Josephine Arnold and her husband used to have a thriving tourist business here. Now, they spend a lot of time shoring up the cliff beneath their house, a task worthy of Sisyphus, knowing it will buy them a couple of extra years at most.

If you walk two streets away from the seafront at Bridlington, you encounter some of the most serious deprivation
Alan Menzies
East Riding council

"We lost 18ft [of cliff] in 20 minutes one evening," Josephine said.

"Since we've been here we've lost three or four outbuildings. We used to keep chickens out the back and the field at the bottom used to have tents.

"We used to have a caravan park here - that's all gone now, we've lost our income as well. We've had to put our own caravans on [the land] to live in because we can no longer live in the house."

There are lots of cases of coastal erosion causing individual hardship around the country - but, as the report points out, for many seaside towns, a unique combination of environmental and economic factors combine to hinder prosperity. In this case, the erosion is taking away the vital tourist industry.

Precarious perch

Jonathan Owen, the conservative deputy leader of East Riding of Yorkshire council, explains this as he stands next to a pile of rubble that used to be a defence against the sea.

Caravans perch precariously on what remains of the cliff.

"There are tens of thousands of caravans [here] and we're very reliant on that business," he says.

Bucket and spade
Not every seaside town can exploit new waves of tourism

"We've put in place an allowance for caravan site owners to move backwards away from the coast onto greenfield sites and land to allow them to continue their businesses."

Mr Owen points out that the East Riding of Yorkshire covers 1,000 square miles, and within it are many very prosperous markets towns. The coastal strip, he says, is only one small part of that.

However, the beautiful scenery that people come to enjoy hides pockets of extreme social problems.

According to a submission to the select committee by East Riding of Yorkshire Council, the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2004 showed deep pockets of deprivation within the coastal zone, including low income, benefit dependency, high unemployment, poor health and lower educational achievement.

Many pensioners

Areas of Bridlington fell within the top 3% nationally. There is also, they suggest, a broader zone of economic deprivation along the coastal strip, reflecting more general traits such as isolation and low aspiration.

"If you walk two streets away from the seafront at Bridlington, you encounter some of the most serious deprivation that you would find anywhere in England," says Alan Menzies, the council's assistant chief executive.

"Unemployment levels are twice the national average, business activity is much lower than the national average, and about 39% of adults in Bridlington are in receipt of a pension, which brings with it all the social pressures you'd expect.

Man fishing
Coastal erosion is a problem in some places

"If these levels of deprivation were in a major UK city, many millions of pounds would be thrown at it, and it would be seen as totally unacceptable to have this level of deprivation."

The select committee has highlighted what many people who live in coastal towns say have been a problem for years - the faded glory of British seaside resorts is difficult to restore.

And surely the call for more money for coastal towns will have ministers rolling their eyes?

"Deprivation itself is quite costly because you then have a lot of people who are dependent on benefits instead of earning," says committee chairwoman and Labour MP Dr Phyllis Starkey.

"But we're not necessarily suggesting more money - [just that] it's channelled in a more co-ordinated way."

Bridlington is re-building the old spa into a 15m concert hall and theatre, which it's hoped will help revive the town, perhaps allowing the grandeur of this seaside town to once again match the splendour of the countryside that surrounds it.


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