I HOPE that as you read this I’ll be sitting in my sunlounger admiring the beautiful Yorkshire coastline at Thornwick Bay. The Bank Holiday weather forecast is good (for once) and there is no better place to spend it than at a lovely seaside spot just a couple of hours’ drive from home.
Regular readers may recall that we actually cancelled our planned family holiday to Cornwall this year and re-routed to just outside Flamborough because we fell in love with the place on a weekend visit. Some people may think I’m mad. I’m not. I just love all things seaside and this year have committed to a quest to find what’s best of British.
I’ve even ventured across the Pennines to Morecambe and Southport. And I have to say that, whilst our Northern coastal towns and resorts have so much to give, we need to start practising giving them some love in return.
This challenge has been dealt a particular pertinency as we approach the likely Brexit deadline of October 31. My adventurous teenage daughter asked me the other day if we will still be able to travel abroad on holidays next year. I assured her that there should be no reason why not, but it may involve more hassle at passport control and expense in the form of visas and so on.
That’s why we might all think more about holidaying in Great Britain. And then this new report on coastal resorts from the Social Market Foundation think-tank arrives and it really makes me sad.
It finds that despite all this talk of “staycationing” – the fancy term for having a holiday in this country as opposed to Mallorca say, or up a mountain in South Africa – the economies of more than 30 UK coastal towns are smaller now than before the financial crash of 2008.
For us in Yorkshire and the Humber, it is particularly frustrating. The GVA, a measure of economic productivity, of East Yorkshire fell by four per cent between 2007 and 2017, and by 2.4 per cent in Scarborough. In neighbouring areas, the GVA of Redcar and Cleveland fell by 12.8 per cent, and in North East Lincolnshire it went down by 4.2 per cent.
Workers in coastal towns are also likely to earn, on average, £5,000 less than their inland counterparts; average wages actually dropped between 2017 and 2018 to £25,906, compared with a rise elsewhere to £30,592. And life expectancy is shorter and house prices far below national averages, despite all those tempting advertisements in estate agents’ windows we all like to gaze at.
The Social Market Foundation calls for “a special package of help” to be put in place to address this “widening gap” between coastal areas and the rest of the UK economy. Knowing what I know about seaside towns and the current government, I’d say that there’s as much chance of that happening as there is of avoiding a few spots of rain.
Of course, Boris Johnson should be prevailed upon to honour the Government’s pre-referendum pledges to provide much-needed extra resources to boost local economies and the fishing industry. But even if he did, would it be enough?
As David Kerfoot, who chairs the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership, says, the coast has some “deeply entrenched issues” and the recent multi-million pound Opportunity Area funding, over three years, would only “scratch the surface” of long-term deprivation.
He’s right. Whilst investment in infrastructure, such as improvements to the notorious A64 road to Scarborough, is vital, throwing money at the coast without engaging with the realities is pointless.
In Yorkshire, we have so much to be proud of. Indeed, I don’t see why our stunning 45-plus miles of beaches, cliffs, fishing villages and resorts shouldn’t form a riviera as eulogised as those in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset.
Although a healthy visitor trade isn’t the only answer to economic woes – improved schools, more graduate jobs and opportunities for modern industries such as technology and communications should all help to form a bedrock – there is much work for tourism promoter Welcome to Yorkshire to do.
Why isn’t Yorkshire an immediate choice for both overseas and domestic holidaymakers, when our beaches are as beautiful and our food and drink as delicious as anywhere else?
Why has no-one outside of Yorkshire – and many who live here too – not heard of the £14m Alpamare waterpark at Scarborough’s North Bay, which has the longest water slides in the UK? Why is Cayton Bay not talked about as a surfing spot to rival Newquay?
Why don’t more private investors look at tired towns such as Bridlington and commit to spending their money there, bringing grotty old hotels into the 21st century and encouraging aspirational weekenders from across the North to see it as a bolthole rather than a blot on the seascape? Answers on a postcard, please.