Hoteliers have welcomed a new report calling for the government to help ‘forgotten seaside towns’ like Morecambe fight back from decades of decline.
The inquest into the state of UK seaside resorts calls for a seven point plan to boost coastal towns including the appointment of a dedicated minister or ‘Seaside Tsar’.
The Tsar’s role would be similar to that of Lord Heseltine, who championed Liverpool as Minister for Merseyside and was a key figure in the city’s recovery from the 1980s riots.
He or she would make decisions on government spending in seaside resorts and ensure all departments worked together with a co-ordinated effort to help coastal areas.
The report also calls for:
New ‘Coastal Action Groups’ to come up with a strategy to target specific social and economic challenges faced by seaside towns
A reduction in tourism VAT to encourage coastal businesses to invest in themselves.
New ‘Coastal Enterprise Zones’ to encourage businesses to move to the coast and create jobs.
Investment in broadband, rail and road connections, and better protection against the threat of rising sea levels
Better education and training for young people and adults
Support for local authorities to tackle social issues and housing problems
The report was published on Monday by the British Hospitality Association (BHA).
The BHA is an independent body based in London. It champions the hospitality and tourism industries including hoteliers and restauranteurs.
Jim Catterall, manager of the Craigwell Hotel on Morecambe seafront, said support from Lancaster City Council and local people would be key to carrying out the plan.
“The people, tourism organisations and local authorities have to work together in each individual resort,” said Mr Catterall.
He said a prime example of this not happening was a planned development of luxury flats near the Midland, which was turned down by Lancaster City Council in 2013 after public opposition, leading to top developers Urban Splash abandoning the project.
“This was a great opportunity to bring in wealth,” said Mr Catterall.
“Unfortunately we had the ‘little Morecambe’ mindset that we didn’t want anything to spoil what was already there. It’s the biggest mistake we ever made.
“There are as many brains in Morecambe and Lancaster as there are in the British Hospitality Association, you only have to look at the quality of our hotels.
“So it has to be locally directed and if the will isn’t there, it isn’t going to happen.”
Mr Catterall said he would also welcome a cut in tourism VAT.
Thirty one other European countries currently benefit from a reduced rate of tourism VAT, which enables them to spend more on wages, training and marketing.
“We pay 20 per cent VAT but France pay around 5 per cent,” said Mr Catterall.
“If they did reduce it, particularly for restaurants, that would be great.”
Paul Bury, owner of the Lothersdale Hotel and Aspect Bar and Bistro in Morecambe, also backed the findings in the report.
“It’s great to see in printed form something many of us have known for a long time,” said Mr Bury.
“There was a report done on the inner cities about 25 years ago that highlighted very similar issues.
“By working with regional development agencies they were able to turn these places around with a mixture of private and public investment.
“If you get that combination of private and public working together, not just in Morecambe but around the coast, it would stimulate investment in the area.
“Once it starts rolling it’s like a snowball, it collects more as it goes along. We’ve seen it in Poulton with ourselves investing and Rod Taylor investing in the Morecambe Hotel.
“In principle I think the Seaside Tsar is a good idea, somebody who can oversee everything but would also need to work with people regionally.”
David Morris, MP for Morecambe, said: “The Seaside Tsar, I’m fully on board with that.
“I’ll be writing to Theresa May to ask if there will be any consideration (of the report) in the future government.
“Seaside communities have a lot to offer and we should embrace this and think of new policies where we can highlight that.”
On the prospect of cutting tourism VAT, Mr Morris said: “I think it’s up for grabs now, this is something that can be addressed but until we see how Brexit works out we don’t know how we are going to allocate taxation.”
Mr Morris also said the Seaside Tsar role would interest him personally.
“I would love to be the Tsar. I have always supported coastal communities from an early age.
“It would enable me to try out ideas and policies in Morecambe.
“I am trying to get an Enterprise Zone in Morecambe.
“I don’t know what is going to happen over the next few weeks but if they offered me the position I would jump at it.”
Enterprise Zones are part of the government’s long-term economic plan to support business growth by giving cheaper business rates, superfast broadband and lower levels of planning control to areas.
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the BHA, said: “We look forward to the appointment of a Seaside Tsar.
“250 million visits are already made to the UK’s coast each year, generating £17bn to the economy.
“But we know there is a lot more to do and that can only happen with a concerted effort by a committed government and the private sector. Together we can turn the tide and bring a smile back to the seaside.”
Coun Janice Hanson, Lancaster City Council cabinet member for regeneration, said: “New initiatives which focus on tackling the issues faced by coastal communities such as Morecambe and which would help us to attract investment and unlock the enormous potential of our seaside towns, are very much welcomed in these parts.”