Coastal areas queuing up for a town deal after Grimsby success story

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 4 Apr 2019

Coastal towns around Britain are being encouraged to strike similar agreements to Grimsby's town deal in order to bolster their fortunes.

That was one of the central conclusions of a nine-month review into the fortunes of seaside towns by members of the House of Lords, which also proposed creating a Town of Culture to rival City of Culture and called for better rail and road links to the country's end-of-the-map destinations.

The report by the peers, published today, reveals that Blackpool – a once-booming seaside tourist attraction – was in the queue to discuss with ministers the prospect of sealing a deal similar to Grimsby's.  Dorset County Council is also said to be interested and pushing for similar terms.

The 10-year Grimsby town deal is an upgrade scheme aiming to breathe new life into the town's waterways and docks to make the area a more enticing place to live, work and study.

Why Grimsby should be the first ever Town of Culture

It plans to create educational and leisure opportunities, with long-term targets of establishing 5,400 further jobs and building 7,700 homes, as well as adding £216 million a year to the local economy with the help of a £36 million Government grant and matched private and council funding.

In the summer, Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry announced that the first phase had been agreed with an initial payment of £2 million to invest in the road network in North East Lincolnshire to support more housing. Another £30 million is still to be announced but Business Secretary Greg Clark is due to travel to the region to negotiate the next stage.

Peers on the regenerating seaside towns and communities committee concluded that the Government should be doing more to roll-out such deals in left-behind areas of England and Wales.

In their report, they write: "We strongly support this approach with determined action between government and local government to tackle the root causes of deprivation in seaside towns. Disparate, limited funding will not address the generational challenges that are so entrenched in these areas."

During his evidence session, Mr Berry heaped praise on North East Lincolnshire Council and the Greater Grimsby Partnership Board for the initiative shown in bringing the proposal to fruition.

He said: "The Grimsby town deal, supported by government funding but largely supported by local funding, is an opportunity to look at how we can do things differently. It lends itself very well to coastal towns. I shall watch with interest how the pilot deal is implemented."

Then-North Lincolnshire Council leader Ray Oxby and Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry sign the £60m Great Grimsby Town Deal in July (Image: Jon Corken)

In a stunning admission from a front bench minister, Tory MP Mr Berry said a replication of Grimsby's town deal across the country could be a way of addressing years of neglect in terms of government policy towards coastal areas – many of which voted heavily to leave the European Union in 2016.

Mr Berry added: "We should continue to look to expand the idea of a town deal, which was in our industrial strategy.  There was a commitment to pilot it in Grimsby and I think it lends itself to coastal towns.

"In truth, it feels as if there has been very little in public policy for as long as I have followed it, for 15 or 20 years, that seeks in a direct way to address the challenges of our towns rather than our major cities.  There is even less that seeks to address the challenges of our coastal towns."

Lord John Bassam of Brighton, who chaired the review, said the town deal was harking back to the past when coastal councils were seen as "powerful institutions" in terms of local development.

The former Labour leader of Brighton and Hove Council said: "When towns and cities had greater freedom like in the Edwardian and Victorian periods and, you might argue, up to the 1980s, they were able to take more initiative.

"The classic pieces of seaside infrastructure come from that time when municipalities were powerful institutions and were able to lead development and make quite strategic investment.  In a sense, we are going back to an old idea and trying to revisit it for the future."

While the Future of Seaside Towns report praised Grimsby's endeavour to negotiate a regeneration package, peers recognised seaside towns have struggled in recent decades, with people opting to move away and stay away.

Lord John Bassam chaired the review into the future of seaside towns (Image: Birmingham Post and Mail/Tariq Mikkel Khan)

Lord Bassam said the solution was to establish a diverse economy to provide stable jobs and to look at the opportunities for cultural regeneration. He said investing in renewable energy – something Grimsby is now a world leader in – and the digital economy were two ways of turning fortunes around.

Speaking to Grimsby Live in Westminster, he said people in seaside towns can "feel they are a long way from where the action is".

He said: "The question is, does the town have enough local excitement? Does it have enough to retain people there? Seaside towns are becoming older and they are losing their young people who don't return.

"We need to make our seaside communities not just places to visit but places to live and be enjoyed by the local host communities."

He said poor transport links – especially the lack of connection to major motorways – was fuelling a "two-speed" economy in Britain where coastal towns could not keep up with city growth.

There is an emerging campaign to extend the M11 from Cambridgeshire up to the Humber Bridge to improve Lincolnshire connections but it is still at an early stage and does not have Treasury sign-off.

"Not one single seaside town is connected directly onto the motorway network," said the former Labour government spokesman.

"I think government has got to take seriously making sure transport connectivity is there. Motorways are important. They provide access to coastal areas. One of our concerns is that we are a bit of a two-speed economy.

READ MORE:Grimsby highlighted as £1.6b Stronger Towns Fund unveiled

 "We have metropolitan economies working really well, with communities that enjoy prosperity – you only have to look at London, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle.

"And then you have the coastal economies which are being sort of left behind and that is clearly not right and not equitable and impacts upon the mood there.

"People in the UK have never seriously fallen out of love with the seaside – they like visiting it, they think it is a great place but seaside areas and communities do feel like they are being left behind in terms of services and service distribution."

Melanie Onn MP, pictured after pulling a pint of Docks Beers' Hard Graft ale in Parliament's Strangers Bar, says Grimsby has a lot to offer in terms of culture (Image: Patrick Daly/Grimsby Live)

Grimsby MP Melanie Onn recently backed the idea of establishing a Town of Culture after the success of the city version, telling MPs during a recent debate that town's population "know they are much more than Skint and Sacha Baron Cohen's Grimsby film".

Hull's stint in 2017 as City of Culture proved what a transformative impact the arts can have, with its 12 months in the spotlight seeing five million recorded visitors, £220 million of investment, tourism profits of £300 million and a visit from graffiti-artist Bansky.

Lord Bassam said there was no reason towns – especially those with strong fishing heritages such as Grimsby – could not benefit from a parallel scheme which was led by culture and history.

"I’ve made the comment that it would be quite good to have town of culture and I know other politicians have promoted that notion," said the 65-year-old.

READ MORE: You've heard of City of Culture – but could Grimsby be the first Town of Culture?

 "It does bring interest, footfall, investment and excitement, so arts-led regeneration is definitely a plus point. I think it would be an interesting addition to the City of Culture bid and maybe something that we need to invent as part of the post-Brexit scenario.

"Grimsby has a long fishing tradition and relationship with the North Sea, it is a very important entry point as a port and has historical value.

"All those things work to stimulate interest in an area. I don’t see why that should not work for Grimsby."



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