Living in the Garden of England, we are lucky to have a plethora of seaside towns to visit thanks to our lengthy 350 miles of coastline.
Over the last few decades though, like much of the rest of the Country, we have seen our previously beloved seaside towns fall into neglect thanks to the decline of core industries such as domestic tourism, fishing and port activities. Many have lost their sense of identity and have become undesirable places to live in.
In early 2019, the Lord’s Select Committee published a report into the Regeneration of Seaside Towns which stated that they must be ‘inspired to regain their pioneering spirit and evolve to meet present day and future challenges’. However, this report does not come as surprise to many in Kent, including the construction community, who have been at the forefront of coastal regeneration since long before that report was published.
Regeneration doesn’t come easily though. It requires buy-in from multiple parties, public and private, the availability of funds and the solution to various issues, many of which are often replicated across all coastal towns. We’ve seen issues such as property value disparity, building conditions, heritage requirements and budgets play a part in whether regeneration projects are even viable for clients.
Turning the tide on regeneration
Fortunately, places like Folkestone, Margate and Hastings are leading the way in regeneration and starting to turn the tide. These coastal towns are seeing things change, thanks to numerous reasons including:
- The introduction of ‘Area Action Plans’ by local Councils, targeting and planning regeneration, for example in places like Herne Bay
- Investment by local private developers and councils alike
- The rise in the ‘stayactions’, fuelled by sites like Airbnb and the poorer exchange rate
- The number of people moving out of London, but still wanting to be in proximity to the City and who can be thanks to HS1.
- Diversification of their offerings, for example, creation of cultural and technology quarters
Plus many more. The construction community is playing its part by delivering the physical elements of these regeneration plans including new housing, art centres, regeneration of dilapidated community spaces plus others. Indeed, we’re proud to have been involved in several key projects to date that have impacted several towns and have noted that there are a few key things and lessons learnt that can help with future regeneration aspirations.
In Herne Bay for example, we’ve seen how one prominently located housing project has since triggered the confidence for other developers to purchase sites and develop them out. In Margate, the development of the Turner Contemporary created a flagship destination for visitors and has then seen the burgeoning of many shops, restaurants and other tourist attractions. A second example of this is Hastings, where their pier, a central and unique asset, was redeveloped and won the RIBA Sterling Prize, bringing visitors in to view and experience its new multi-faceted offering and excellent design quality.
Organic and Imaginative Revival
Another solution we’ve witnessed is the development of coastal areas organically and in a piecemeal fashion. For example, investment in Folkestone has extended from the Creative Quarter to the Harbour Arm and now to the Seafront. This has been undertaken over many years to revive and regenerate this now popular place to live and work.
Imagination and having an open mind are also key for many of these projects. Design Teams must work hard to not only repurpose derelict or abandoned sites but to think holistically about what it is they are offering the towns. For example, the Friends of Margate Caves fundraised money to reopen the closed and abandoned caves by providing a new Visitors Centre and accessway into the cave system. In doing this, they also developed the Visitors Centre to be a community space, providing a much-needed hireable facility in an area where there was little. They have been inundated with requests since they opened in August 2019, with over 650 groups enquiring about hiring.
Like the Lord’s Select Committee, we agree that coastal towns have so much more to offer. We have seen some towns respond positively to opportunities, where others are lagging and struggling, as the Government says ‘to respond to the opportunities of the 21st Century’. We feel that as an industry, construction can help overcome this by sharing with coastal clients our experience and expertise that helps them to meet their vision, raise funds and deliver in a way that generates significant change. B&M are proud to have been involved in the regeneration of Kentish seaside towns and their much-loved heritage. And with several more projects incoming, we look forward to doing so for years to come.