Call For Evidence

The House of Lords Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities was appointed by the House on 17 May 2018. The remit of the Committee is “to consider the regeneration of seaside towns and communities”. Individuals and groups were asked to give their views on a series of questions. This was HCN’s contribution:
Background
Although Hornsea is a popular place to live due to its unique natural beauty, great community spirit and relative tranquility, many of the problems it faces are common to most seaside towns around the country. The long-term erosion of the fabric of communities combined with the corporate takeover of our lives have been converted to full scale assault with the onset of austerity and the resulting loss of services.
Our Cottage Hospital had all patient beds removed a number of years ago and has recently lost its Minor Injuries Unit, forcing people to travel 13 miles for treatment. Our banks and central Post Office have all disappeared and the Community Service Centre and Library will soon be relocated to the Leisure Centre on the sea front, leaving the town centre void of any services. This is a further blow to those small independent traders who have managed to survive since the arrival of a major supermarket on the outskirts of town. Our only cultural events venue was due to be demolished by the Council until the community first protested and then took it over.
Housing
Despite the loss of services, Hornsea continues to be a desirable place to live for people seeking somewhere relatively peaceful and free from the social problems of other areas. As a result, the town has grown considerably in recent decades and the drive to build housing in every possible spare space continues unabated. As well as the worrying loss of green spaces, this has also led to problems with traffic and parking. It is questionable how much longer the town can continue to expand before the conditions that attracted people here i.e. its beauty, peacefulness and social stability, no longer exist.
Transport
Our subservience to the automobile was kick started by the closing of our railway line in the 1960s. Our public transport is now limited to an expensive and inadequate bus service which is becoming ever more limited with recent further cuts. With the loss of other services and the arrival of the supermarket, the takeover is now complete as most people do all of their shopping by car and have no choice but to drive 15-20 miles for many of their needs. This results in more noise, air pollution, accidents, environmental damage and stress, particularly for those without a car, who may not be able to access vital services.
Physical Regeneration
Until recently the town has received virtually no funding for physical regeneration as this has been directed to neighbouring towns Bridlington and Withernsea which are classed as ‘deprived areas.’ At present, work is taking place to improve the fishing boat compound and to turn a previously free car parking space into a larger one with charges. The expansion of the Leisure Centre to incorporate a café, library and Community Service Centre will commence shortly. These measures will help our regional council to cut spending and increase revenue but will bring nothing new to the town.
Social and Economic Regeneration
The Hornsea Area Regeneration Partnership has been in existence for a number of years and has helped to bring a few minor cosmetic improvements. Other than that, most people are unaware of any impact it may have had. There appears to be an underlying assumption that, because we are a seaside town, our social and economic welfare depends on tourism and on making the town as attractive as possible for people to visit.
We would argue that the dependence on tourism is a factor that has contributed to seaside towns becoming the most deprived areas in the country. Tourism, at best, only provides seasonal employment and is very fragile; being subject to factors such as the weather and the trend towards package holidays abroad which has been a major cause of the demise. For a truly stable and thriving local economy we need a diverse array of small cottage industries such as the town enjoyed at the end of the last century with the world renowned Hornsea Pottery. The Pottery became a victim of globalisation as it was eventually unable to compete with cheaper foreign imports. This has led to the situation today in which we produce virtually nothing ourselves and are completely dependent on imports from around the world.
Education
Although some efforts are made to engage with the community, in general the schools are too weighed down by the demands and pressure placed upon them to make the most of the opportunities available. Being a town with a high elderly population, most of the activities in the town are run by the older generations, who often express frustration at the lack of participation and of opportunities to engage with the youth. Many retired people have time on their hands and would be only too pleased to contribute their skills and wisdom to help young people if structures were in place. There needs to be more emphasis on producing rounded and socially pro-active citizens instead of the obsession with academic achievement. If young people felt more integrated in their community they may feel more inclined to seek or create employment here and help to stem the inevitable ‘brain drain’ that we experience every year as our most talented young people move elsewhere to seek employment.
Health
With a large elderly population, very few of whom are free from degenerative disease, health is a major issue in our town. At a time when the need for treatment is increasing alarmingly, we have seen the removal of services which provide some of that treatment. As a result, most of our elderly (and not so elderly) population spend a sizeable portion of their time and savings travelling to and from the nearest hospitals 17 miles away, generating a huge volume of traffic, pollution and stress in the process.
Coastal Communities Fund and the Role of Government
£10,000 of government funding was obtained to employ a consultancy firm to compile a ‘vision’ for our sea front. A sizeable document was produced which is now gathering dust. This is evidence of how just throwing a little money our way will not have any meaningful impact. For this to happen the government needs to set about creating the conditions whereby all communities are able to begin producing commodities for themselves once more. To give an example; our town is surrounded by good quality farmland which could be used in creating a series of market gardens to produce fresh, natural produce with which to feed ourselves. This would have multiple benefits: providing sustainable employment and boosting the local economy, improving health for both workers and residents, and benefitting the environment.
This isn’t feasible under present conditions because potential producers cannot compete with heavily subsidised, large scale agribusiness and foreign imports. Fiscal and other measures could be employed to ensure that these and other small-scale initiatives can at least compete on a level playing field.
The Role of People and Community
Without doubt, the regeneration of seaside towns needs to be driven by the people and communities themselves. However, for this to happen those people need to feel empowered.
At present we are paralysed by the impression that corporations and central government hold all the power and find that all initiatives to develop sensible policies such as local provision of services, food and other goods, are either severely handicapped or impossible due to global forces beyond our control.
Increasingly, especially in Northern towns, examples are emerging of communities taking matters into their own hands and wrestling back some sort of sanity and dignity. Here in Hornsea we have two shining examples; firstly, the aforementioned cultural centre (The Floral Hall) which the community took over and transformed from a £100,000 per year loss maker into a thriving hub running at a profit. Secondly, to cover the loss of our Minor Injuries Unit, our First Responders have set up a Community First Aid Centre run by trained volunteers and funded by donations. Both of these projects are only made possible by the heroic sacrifices of individuals within the community prepared to overcome enormous obstacles. They exist despite government actions not because of them. They demonstrate that our communities are capable of wonderful achievements that could be replicated and multiplied many times over if they were empowered.
The plea for empowerment is probably the most important message that we can send to central government. The powers granted to our Town Council are pitifully meagre and we feel that we are too often dictated to by regional and central governments which are not in touch with our reality. We are not asking for handouts- just the opportunities to shape our own destiny on a level playing field.