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Seaside Resorts

Volume 804: debated on Monday 22 June 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to ensure that seaside resorts can respond to any increased demand for holidays in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Government are taking a number of measures to make sure that our seaside resorts can open safely at the earliest possible opportunity. We meet regularly with the industry to hear views on how tourism businesses, including those in seaside destinations, can best prepare to welcome holidaymakers when it is safe to do so. My department has set up a cultural renewal task force with a specific visitor economy working group to develop Covid-secure guidance to help tourism businesses, including those on the coast, reopen. We are working very closely with the sector on this. When it is ready, we look forward to welcoming people back to our fantastic seaside resorts.

My Lords, the seaside towns cannot wait, because time moves on. We are about to move into the busiest three months of a seaside town’s economic year. From the much-trailed statements that are to come out tomorrow, we need immediately clear guidance for seaside towns on how best they can reopen their attractions, particularly hospitality and iconic indoor attractions, perhaps taking best practice from abroad. I welcome the statement about the committee. By the end of this tourist season, it must put in place long-term help for seaside towns, as recommended by the committee on seaside towns chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on which I served.

The noble Lord is absolutely right that tourism is a critical part of the economy for a number of seaside towns. We are looking at all options for how we can reopen safely as quickly as possible. We have set an ambitious target of 4 July to do just that.

My Lords, my diocese boasts some of the UK’s most beautiful coastline, and I welcome the Minister’s reassurances on the significance of tourism and the measures to be taken to aid it. However, many of the coastal communities in the north-east, in common with coastal towns elsewhere, are among the 10% most-deprived areas in England. What action do the Government propose to ensure that the present crisis will not make the inequality with non-coastal areas even greater?

The right reverend Prelate is right. I was lucky enough to visit some of the coastline in her diocese before Covid, and it is absolutely stunning. The Government have been committed since 2012 to supporting coastal communities and have spent £229 million through the Coastal Communities Fund. She will be aware of the focus that this Government put in their manifesto on levelling up some of the communities that are perceived as left behind, covering all sorts of job creation, infrastructure and, importantly, tourism.

My Lords, Covid-19 has been a huge blow to Eastbourne and surrounding south coast resorts—the area where I live. Responding to the renaissance of demand will require substantial, imaginative and fast investment. Will my noble friend tell our local authorities that they should bring forward their proposals now, and will she support them by providing them with a single point of contact rather than making them—their very overworked selves—fight round the myriad government departments?

My noble friend makes an important point. I am not sure that it is our style to tell local authorities what they should do, because each local authority will face a slightly different set of issues. However, we are looking at a series of regulatory easements that would potentially extend the holiday season and therefore address some of the critical pressures that seaside resorts and other tourist destinations are facing.

My Lords, UK rural and seaside tourism is not a good business at the best of times, with often only part-time work in the summer from which you hope to save enough to survive the winter. People in Cornwall are now talking about three consecutive winters, owning to the freeze on income during this summer. So when do the Government hope that their coastal or tourism task force, which she mentioned, will report? This situation is getting very serious.

We are expecting the visitor economy task force, as we have named it, to report very shortly. There is real complexity in the tourism industry, given its breadth, and the task force will aim to address all the different aspects on which the sector needs clarity.

My Lords, in April VisitBritain’s impact assessment forecast a £15 billion loss in spend from incoming tourism and a £22 billion loss in spend from domestic tourism to our seaside resorts as a result of Covid. These are horrendous figures, which must impact the long-term prospects of our coastal resorts. So what long-term aid are the Government offering them?

The noble Lord is right that the impact of the drop that we have seen in the number of tourists is extraordinary. He will be aware that at the end of last year the Government announced a tourism sector deal. As part of that, there will be a number of tourism action zones. Sadly, Covid-19 has delayed those plans somewhat, but we are still absolutely committed to our tourist industry.

My Lords, during the lockdown will the Government allow councils to give waivers from both licensing and planning limitations on the use of outside space? This would allow the hospitality sector to have tables outside their premises and allow more businesses to reopen while maintaining social distancing.

I think that I mentioned earlier that we are looking at a range of regulatory easements to facilitate the delivery of different services and extend the season.

I live in the seaside resort of Hastings and St Leonards—a borough that relies quite heavily on an influx of students coming to language schools. Unfortunately, language schools are not eligible for the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant fund. Do the Government have any other ways of helping them before they all disappear? Perhaps help could be made available through the Coastal Communities Fund, mentioned by my noble friend.

I will check on the specifics of language schools, but I assume that they are eligible for some of the wider cross-economy measures that the Chancellor announced, including, in particular, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. However, if there are additional points, I will be happy to write to my noble friend.

My Lords, University of Southampton research shows that the five towns at the greatest economic risk from the pandemic across the entire UK are coastal: Mablethorpe, Skegness, Clacton-on-Sea, Bridlington and Kinmel Bay. Seaside towns saw workers laid off in April at a faster rate than anywhere else in Britain, and seasonal employment practices mean that many local people fall between government support schemes. Does the Minister agree that, although measures to bolster domestic tourism this summer are important, they need to be part of a broader package of support for coastal towns to diversify their economies and build long-term resilience?

The noble Baroness is right, and that is why the Government are trying to tackle this problem from different perspectives. We were already aiming to work in just those communities ahead of Covid, whether through our ambitious transport and infrastructure plans, our levelling-up plans, our tourism sector deal or the wider work within that deal that will focus on improving job opportunities in those communities.

My Lords, the Lords Select Committee on the future of seaside towns, which I had the privilege of chairing, recommended government intervention on transport, education, skills training, digital inclusion, housing and the creation of new town deals. Will the Government now consider expanding the scope of the town deals to cover more left-behind seaside communities, and will they seek to use an expanded programme as part of the national recovery plan, given that Covid has, as we have heard, hit these communities hardest?

The Government are certainly looking at how we can maximise the impact of the tourism sector deal. I am not clear at the moment whether that will be through expanding the number of tourism action zones or making sure that some of the skills and other training that will be offered through the deal are spread more broadly across the country. However, this is definitely something that we are focusing on.