Ocean Community News

University Professor Chairs Government Event on Coastal Communities

Assessing the challenges facing seaside resorts

A nationally-renowned expert on tourism at the University has been invited to chair a UK government event focused on the challenges facing coastal resorts and communities.

Professor Sheela Agarwal, co-founder of the University’s ground-breaking Centre for Coastal Communities, opened the Seaside and Coastal Regeneration Conference 2021 telling delegates that it had come at a key moment for such communities facing “a multitude of challenges” and “worrying patterns of deprivation”.

The online conference, organized by a host of partners including the National Coastal Tourism Academy, provided an opportunity to share initiatives and collaborative approaches to developing and delivering economic and social recovery strategies for coastal towns, many of whom have suffered disproportionately in the COVID pandemic.

Professor Agarwal, Associate Head of Research and Innovation in the Plymouth Business School, told the conference that, with the exception of some seaside resorts, there had been limited investigation into coastal community issues, such as unemployment and low economic activity; low incomes, skills and education attainment; and poor public health outcomes.

“Those of us who have attempted to research coastal towns know that undertaking studies is extremely difficult due to the lack of available data,” Professor Agarwal said. 

“While that might be something that appears to impact only academic study, in the words of Professor Chris Whitty, if we can’t see the problem through the data, how can we understand it and address it?!”

Professor Agarwal told the conference that recognition of these challenges was nothing new, but that policy had lagged until the advent of the House of Lords Select Committee on Seaside Towns in 2019. Sally-Ann Hart MP, the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coastal Communities created in the wake of that select committee, was among the speakers at the conference, along with representatives from industry and local governmental and police authorities.

“Clearly, the challenges facing English seaside towns are complex.” Professor Agarwal added.

“And, in the wake of a national strategy to ‘Build back Better’ and the ‘levelling’ up of Britain’s periphery to create dynamic, thriving coastal communities, the central and perhaps most critical question is ‘how can we address these challenges?’ That is why this conference is so timely.”

The University’s Centre for Coastal Tourism draws experts from across health, business and science to consider a broad variety of coastal topics including economic performance, deprivation, migration, education, displaced populations, health and social care, the blue economy, plastic pollution and economic, social and environmental policy.

Earlier this year, it contributed a chapter to the Chief Medical Officer’s Annual Report 2021 on Health in Coastal Communities, which drew a number of health-related conclusions, including that people in coastal areas have a lower life expectancy than those living in other parts of the country.

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