Coastal Town challenges

"Government has neglected the needs of coastal towns for too long. A greater understanding and appreciation is needed of the challenges facing coastal towns".

This is the opening conclusion of the "Coastal Towns" report of the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee and it follows a costly and lengthy study of the challenges facing Britain's 21st century seaside towns.

The select report notices the adverse impact of the dumping of cared-for children upon some resort areas, such as East Kent, and the decline resulting by a lack of inward investment in tourism and related industry over many years.

Now there's a surprise!

We should, I suppose, be grateful that such an august body as the CLG Select Committee has shone its light into the darkened corners of Britain's fading resort towns but the fact of the matter is that the Members of Parliament, such as myself, representing those towns have been screaming the need for an integrated policy from the rooftops with no avail for years.

Indeed, the "Thanet report" instigated by Kent County Council pinpointed the difficulties created by an excess of children in care placed in the County by other local authorities with little or no prior consultation and without adequate funding to provide for the education, health, social services and police intervention that such placements generate.

I have lost count of the number of meetings that I have attended and the number of letters that I have written in relation to this matter but the sad fact is that the placements continue and Ministers turn a blind eye to a practice that is cheap and convenient for Inner London Boroughs while at the same time damaging to the interests of Kent and to the children in care in particular.

It is a now widely-recognised fact that, to quote the Select Committee Report, "there can be significant drawbacks in placing children in care away from their home area".  Aside from those who have to be removed for reasons of safety, young people generally fare better within the community of extended family and friends where they have some sense of ownership than they do when artificially transplanted to a location with which they have no sense of identity.

"Placing authorities should consider the impact of placements on the receiving community and host authority and they should take responsibility for the financial impact of those placements" says the Select Committee.
Hear, Hear!  And perhaps now that a select committee with a Labour majority and A Labour Chairman has said this in black and white Labour Ministers will seek to prevail upon local authorities to whom they have allocated far more taxpayers money than that given to Kent, to stop dumping their problems upon some of the most deprived areas of the South East and make proper and local provision for those damaged children within their own communities.

Turning to the wider issue of investment in resorts whose "seaside holiday" heyday is long past my parliamentary colleagues observe that "A national strategy for coastal towns is not a solution to their needs as a `one size fits all` approach is inappropriate."

England is blessed with a superb if run-down seaside heritage of fine buildings, seascapes and landscapes that must be cherished.  Local authorities such as Thanet and Canterbury have very limited funds available to invest in regeneration but they do control much real estate.  If public and private sectors work together in partnership then there is no reason why the piers and the Kings and Queens Halls and the Winter Gardens and the Lidos should not be modernised to provide commercially viable all-weather facilities that will appeal to today's holidaymaker.

If the Government were to encourage this process through modest and well-target grant aid coupled with sensible tax-breaks for those investing and if we could re-direct the Heritage Lottery Fund back to its original aims and objectives then much might yet be achieved.  As all major political parties now seek to promote the cause of eco-friendly short-haul domestic tourism in place of globally-warming air travel it would be no bad thing if those same political parties took a long hard look at policies designed to regenerate the home-grown holiday offer.

Unless that is done yet another select committee report will not be worth the investment in time and effort and travel nor the recycled paper upon which I trust it was printed.

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