Heritage, Tourism and Economic Development in Seaside Towns

Yesterday, I gave this presentation at a fascinating event at Turner Contemporary in Margate on local lists and the heritage sector.  I was invited to speak by the Margate Neighbourhood Plan Forum and Margate Civic Society, about the relationship between heritage, tourism and economic development.  This was great opportunity for me to return to Margate, the regeneration of which I published this article about a few years ago.

In my presentation, I argued that, in the absence of strong government policies on tourism and culture, and as public sector funding and control of regeneration reduces, there is an opportunity for heritage groups (like the fantastic Sevenoaks Society, who presented their work on local lists at the event) to influence how their local heritage is presented to tourists and to influence the nature of local economic development.

My main point was that tourists want fantastic, memorable experiences.  If heritage groups can present their local heritage to tourists as interesting stories and use exciting narratives, then heritage can be a great resource for regeneration. This might mean them becoming comfortable with the inauthentic heritagisation of their areas, but seaside towns like Whitby and Blackpool show that this can be highly effective in bringing in tourists and generating economic impacts.


An elephant delighting tourists in Margate (Thanks to Geoff Orton @ Margate Civic Society)
A mechanical elephant delighting tourists in Margate (Thanks to Geoff Orton @ Margate Civic Society)

Dreamland, tourism and the regeneration of Margate

This week, a battle has been taking place in the High Court over the future of the Dreamland theme park site in Margate, Kent.  The Local Authority for Margate, Thanet District Council, has been granted a Compulsory Purchase Order for the site, because it wants to develop it in what it sees as the best interests of the town and its residents.  The owners of the site, Dreamland Live, are challenging this decision and want to retain the right to develop this land in their own commercial interests.

This is a brief news report about the background to the court battle, including a short contribution from me.  The court case finished yesterday, with a judgement due in around two weeks.

The Dreamland site is an important part of Margate’s tourism heritage and vital for the future of tourism development and regeneration in the area.  The delays to this project are incredibly damaging to the development of the town and are only worsening Margate’s Tourism Destination Image, which had been massively improved recently with the opening of Turner Contemporary.

Click here to find out about more about Dreamland

I wrote a journal article about the regeneration of Margate, and of the use of culture to regenerate seaside towns generally, which you can read more about here.

The large dreamland site
The large Dreamland site

I’m not convinced that the owners of the site have really grasped the full potential of a revitalised Dreamland for tourism and economic development. However, I’m equally concerned that the local authority may not have the funds, capacity and commercial experience to deliver a project that is sustainable in the long-term.

I hope that the future development of Dreamland involves a genuine partnership between the public and private sectors and that the Dreamland Trust remain at the heart of the project. The trust have put together a set of really exciting ideas for the future of the site and represent a range of views and interests in the local community.  Without them, I’m sure that the whole site would have been given over to housing or a supermarket development long ago.

Rediscovering cultural tourism: cultural regeneration in seaside towns

UPDATE: This article is now available for free download from here.

I’ve just had this article published in the Journal of Town and City Management. The abstract is below.  If you’d like to know more about this paper and don’t have access to read it online, please get in touch.

“British seaside towns have been subject to numerous attempts at regeneration and rebranding since the collapse of traditional seaside tourism began in the late 1970s. This paper reviews contemporary approaches to seaside regeneration and demonstrates that cultural regeneration strategies are becoming increasingly prevalent in this area. The validity of transferring city-based models of cultural development to these smaller urban areas is critiqued. The history of cultural investment in seaside towns is highlighted to show how current approaches to cultural regeneration, while presented as novel, are in fact a resumption of earlier strategies of cultural tourism development. This heritage of cultural development provides a resource for seaside cultural regeneration which may allow development of this type to avoid the negative social impacts often associated with cultural regeneration in cities.”

Local Enterprise Partnerships and Seaside Towns: new paper

Samantha Chaperon and I have had a paper accepted for a Regional Studies Association event on ‘Innovation Processes and Destination Development in Tourist Resorts’ that will be held in Östersund, Sweden from 30th March-1st April this year.  Our paper is titled ‘Local Enterprise Partnerships and Seaside Towns: an analysis of a framework for the governance of tourism in the UK.’

The event has been organised by the RSA network on Tourism, Regional Development and Public Policy who are very interesting group of researchers.  I presented a paper on seaside tourism in Kent at one of their events in Aalborg, Denmark in 2008 – click here for the presentation – and the seminar was really well organised, with a great range of contributions with a Northern and Eastern European focus and lots of good discussion.

Seaside towns and Local Enterprise Partnerships

This is a copy of a presentation that myself and a colleague, Samantha Chaperon, were due to give at the ATHE 2010 conference last week. Sadly the weather conspired against us, but the organisers have been kind enough to let us submit the full paper for the proceedings, which I will post a link to here in Spring 2011 once they have been published.

The development of seaside towns: domestic tourism in a core-periphery context

I’ve been working on some new research with a colleague, Samantha Chaperon, which uses dependency theory as a framework for analysing the development of seaside towns. In particular, we’re interested in what light this research can shed on the new Local Enterprise Partnerships that affect these towns. We’ll be presenting the early stages of our research at the ATHE conference from 1-3 December in Canterbury, UK, and I’ve included the abstract for the paper below:

Peripherality in tourism has traditionally been a concept used to contrast remote, economically disadvantaged, often exotic locations, with the prosperous tourism generating core(s) of northern, western nations. Dependency theory highlights the tension that this creates between nations and populations whose relationships are constructed on the basis of inequality (Britton 1982). This ‘core-periphery conflict’ has produced global landscapes of tourism governance that reflect these inequalities (Jordan 2004).

There have been relatively few attempts to study the governance of domestic tourism within the context of core-periphery theory (CPT). This is a significant omission in tourism and governance literature as domestic tourism at the local level also manifests economic and social inequalities which can lead to conflict (Weaver 1998, Bianchi 2002).

This paper examines the historical and contemporary development of British seaside towns, and the governance of tourism in these towns from a CPT perspective, concentrating on three historical periods. Firstly, the mid 19th century in which their development was tied to the growth of British industrial centres. Secondly, the period in the second half of the 20th century when the growth of southern Mediterranean resorts presented a challenge to seaside towns and, finally, the first two decades of the 21st century in which attempts to regenerate seaside tourism in the UK have been governed by the spatial remits of Regional Development Agencies and the new Local Enterprise Partnerships (Kennell 2010).

Why choose the arts to regenerate a community?

This is the presentation that I gave at the ‘Cultural Journeys’ conference at University Centre Folkestone on 9th September. It is mainly images, but if you download it you can read my notes in the PowerPoint file that include references to some useful sources about cultural regeneration.

Seaside(r) regeneration video

An interview with Meanwhile Space’s Eddie Bridgman, about the Seasider project.  Eddie gives a useful summary of some of the issues affecting seaside towns and mentions some of the regeneration projects that are being carried out on the coast.  The interview takes place in the fantastic Seasider pop-up shop in Camden.

Via the Regeneration and Renewal youtube channel

Social Seaside

I have started a new blog and a new twitter account to record the progress of my PhD research into the cultural regeneration of seaside towns in the UK.  I’ll be posting fairly regular updates on my research, which is now into its last 12 months, and also using them as a forum for discussion and dissemination of my results.

Cities outlook 2010: the seaside

I’m going to be appearing on the BBC1 TV programme ‘The Politics Show South East’ on Sunday 14th February.  I’ve been invited on to discuss the role of regeneration spending in seaside towns, for an article that has been prompted by the publication of the Centre For Cities ‘Cities Outlook 2010’ report.

The Centre for Cities are a think-tank who investigate economic development issues with a focus on British cities and they publish an annual ‘Cities Outlook’ report which sets out the performance and prospects of the UK’s 64 main cities.  Their latest report was published a couple of weeks ago.


Like everything in this field at the moment, it makes for quite depressing reading.  Unemployment has risen to around 8%.  Retail, financial services and construction are the hardest hit sectors so far, all of which are key aspects of city economies.  The centre forecasts that it will take around 5 years for employment to return to pre-crisis levels.  We can add to this by noting that there is probably still some way to go before we hit the bottom of the unemployment curve.  With cuts still to come to the public sector and the commercial property market due to underperform significantly this year it is likely that unemployment will reach 10% by the end of the year, before it begins to pick up again in 2011.

A Key focus of the report is on what they describe as “public sector cities”, those urban centres whose recent growth has involved the re-location or creation of large numbers of public sector jobs.  As we all know, the pain of this crisis is going to be felt most strongly by the public sector. The Government is now taking steps to address the budget deficit produced by the bailouts of the banking sector and the programme of quantitative easing that is still ongoing, and necessary to keep the hyper-capitalist juggernaut rolling.  The graph below, taken from the report, places cities into categories of vulnerability according to their exposure to the effects of public sector cutbacks:

From a seaside perspective, the two cities that jump out  here are Brighton and Hastings seperated by only35 miles of coastline, but representing the most insulated and the most exposed groups of cities in terms of the risks associated with the coming cutbacks.

Brighton has seen highest contribution of any city in the country from the private sector to job creation -70.4% of all recent new jobs have been in the private sector, with a 20.8% growth in job creation since 2008,  and also the 6th highest rate of new business creation in the country.  Hastings, 39th on the list in terms of private sector contribution, saw a net loss of 0.3% of jobs in the same period.  In Hastings, only 57.5% of new jobs have been created in the private sector.

Hastings is the 2nd highest ranked city for earnings growth in the country, but 63rd in terms of average income, suggesting that the job creation is still taking place in the lower reaches of the earning scale.  This is supported by the city’s occupation of 58th place in the rankings for knowledge economy jobs (9.7% of the workforce), comparing poorly to Brighton in 10th place with 23.2%.  This contrast in the skills and profile of the two neighbouring cities is also reflected in the percentage of high skills (NVQ4+) in the local labour market:  Brighton is 6th on the list with 38.1% and Hastings is 40th with 22.5%.

It is clear from data like this that Brighton has a built-in resilience to the kind of economic shocks that Hastings is particularly exposed to in the current climate.  Brighton has been undergoing a renaissance since the early 1990s, with the regeneration of the town facilitated by good transport links to London, a growing creative industries sector and high levels of entrepreneurship.  Hastings, however, is still struggling to deal with the repercussions of the restructuring of the tourism industry following the recessions of the late 1970s and early 1980s.    As the report says, “Many of the cities that have been hit hardest are places still suffering from the legacy of industrial restructuring and previous recessions”. 

The regeneration of Hastings, which has recently embraced the cultural route to redevelopment, has been extensively supported by the public sector, notably the local authority and SEEDA, the regional development agency.  One of the reasons that the economic impacts of regeneration are so difficult to pin down in the short-medium terms is the effect of increasing public spending on job creation.  Major regeneration projects require investments in human, as well as physical capital, and these projects create employment by virtue of their existence.  Increasing the capacity of the local public sector to deliver change and bringing new facilities and projects online, often means increasing the size of publically subsidised sectors through the creation of new agencies, administrative structures and individual posts.  This growth in local employment is now at risk.

It would seem that Hastings, which has seen huge public sector investment over the last 5 years, is now in a precarious position.  No doubt, without the massive government interventions that the city has benefited from, Hastings would be in a far worse position.   Assuming that the funding continues to flow, the regeneration of the Harbour area and the presence of the new Jerwood contemporary art gallery will help to drive tourism in Hastings and begin to create secondary employment in the accommodation, catering and other tourism services sectors.  The real question for Hastings is can it weather the storm of the coming period of public-sector cuts without losing momentum? 

The reinvention of Brighton has been high-profile and dramatic; a more dramatic commercial-sector crash may have (and still might) jeopardise its future sustainability.  If public sector investment can be maintained in Hastings then this will help to maintain local development capacity and enable the city to push on with its ambitious plans when we come out of the other side of this crisis. Eventually, the public investment will begin to lever in private money and the city can look forward to the development of a more balanced economy.  If momentum is lost in Hastings it may never catch up with its more glamorous neighbour. 

The Centre for Cities report emphasises that the recovery, when it comes, will be uneven.  This will be no less true for our seaside towns.  In the south-east alone, the development of formerly bustling resorts is a patchwork of public, private, charitable and organic approaches to regeneration.  There will be winners and losers in the competition to become the next Brighton, but it appears that the city that has provide a template for so much current thinking about seaside cultural development will be on top for some time to come.