Troubled waters

Think tank: Onward

Author(s): Jenevieve Treadwell

September 19, 2023

This report from UK think tank Onward looks at tackling the crisis on England’s coast.

England’s coast holds an important place in Britain’s history. Towns and cities along the shoreline once welcomed holidaymakers from across the country and hosted industries that exported around the world. Today, the coast is in crisis. Cheap international travel has taken tourists from British seaside resorts and deindustrialisation has driven away major employers and good jobs.

Six of the ten poorest communities in the UK are now found on the coast; people living on the coast are 15% more likely to have an early, preventable death than those who live inland; coastal property prices are a third lower than inland areas – despite small pockets of luxury; and the crime rate is 12% higher.

We identify three coastal undercurrents that are driving these problems: industry, seasonality and demography. Low economic growth and productivity are low, driven by low-skilled, low-wage jobs. A seasonal housing market that hollows out communities and a swell of tourism in the summer overwhelms local police and leads to a surge in crime. Coastal communities are much older – there are 172 communities where the pension-age population is larger than the working-age population – 138 (80%) are by the seaside. They are also sicker, 20% of individuals have a disability compared to 17% inland.

In this report, Onward recommends stopping coastal drift in its tracks with a mix of social and economic policies that help coastal communities rediscover their purpose and level up.