Reflections on the English Coastal Challenge Summit 2018

Three coastal networks gathered at Europe House in London in April to explore common-ground and joint opportunities. The Coastal Challenge Summit was inspired by the emergence of many enthusiastic people working in and around coastal communities and the coastal environment.

  • The Coastal Partnerships Network brings together approximately 50 local Coastal and Estuary Partnerships working at different scales across the UK to promote joined-up planning and management for sustainability.
  • The Coastal Communities Alliance co-ordinates over 100 Coastal Community Teams working on projects to restore and enhance socio-economic value across a large variety of coastal towns in England. They also provide the umbrella for the Coastal Culture Heritage network which supports arts and culture in coastal communities.
  • The Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group brings together approximately 60 active members dealing with coastal protection and shoreline management in their areas, often promoting shared management approaches across local authority boundaries.

The champions of these three networks saw the opportunity for this ‘challenge-style’ event, bringing together 70 delegates who work to promote the coast across England. The day was launched by Therese Coffey MP who is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Environment and the only MP with the word ‘coastal’ in the name of her constituency. She congratulated the three networks for coming together and said that while the 17% of the English population that lives in coastal areas were often at risk, through challenge, opportunities would arise. She added that there is no single approach to management, so decisions are devolved to local councils to care for people and their environment.

Wayne Hemmingway set the challenge to be brave and thus provided an underlying theme for the day, energising the discussions and catalysing delegates towards future action. He said that it is now ‘cool to go to the coast’ in England (not Benidorm), and thus we must explore the cultural origins and unique selling points (USPs) of our coastal places. Challenges were discussed across four themes:

  • Opportunities and Impact – Collaborative project potential.
  • The Empty Space – Coastal policy for the 2020s.
  • Forward Together –  Common strategic issues.
  • Wide Blue Yonder – What can our joint vision be?

These four ‘challenges’ were then discussed by groups, according to their English region. They focused on USPs, funding, reaching MPs and shared vision. The final session involved the regional facilitators and national network leads sharing perspectives in a panel-style plenary feedback-session. Before delegates went home, they shared what they had learnt and which actions they would like to take forward.

The value of communication between coastal interests at the national and local level enables the identification of common ground, common interests and common solutions. There is huge potential here. Ideas emerged about how to define and promote USPs and ‘hotspots’ of interest/activity, and how to increase the political profile of the coast and attract further finance. Coastal regeneration needs are key to many coastal communities. The value of culture as a basis for the local coastal economy and connections between local residents and visitors with their environment will be given greater consideration. Several delegates resolved to seek greater contact with local councillors and MPs about wider engagement, strategies and funding opportunities, particularly through enhancing contact with Local Enterprise Partnerships. Whilst many delegates reflected on problems (particularly social/rural deprivation challenges), there was a general tone that we should look forward positively, use our USPs and be brave – including hosting new coastal festivals to bring people together. As the broader issues and opportunities were highlighted, the value of a summit like this became apparent and the organisers were encouraged to do it again.

Many delegates left the event motivated to take actions which would mobilise more collaborative effort: raising the profile or becoming more involved in the work of the national networks; seeking to influence more people ‘back home’; and pursuing ideas for exchanging experience across the country. From a personal point of view, I gained many insights to coastal community issues around eastern England and how, if we recognise and build on the productivity of coastal resources then economic, social and environmental objectives can be met collectively.

Natasha is a member of the Coastal Partnerships Network committee and currently researching for a Doctorate in collaborative governance of the UK coast. E: / W: