Why is grafitti from Devon eligible for this blog, inspired as it is by community development in Wales? Well a maternal great grandfather of mine originated from Appledore in Devon moving to Barry/Y Barri in south Wales in the late nineteenth century. Tenuous it may be, but then it’s my blog and I set the rules….
I recall, though, seeing the graffiti and being reminded of the deprivation that exists in coastal west and north Wales. Idyllic, quaint and once-staple holiday destinations for thousands of Britons, towns such as Barmouth/Abermaw, Rhyl/Y Rhyl, Colwyn Bay/Bae Colwyn, Aberysywth, Llandudno, and Pwllheli all comprise areas considered among the very most deprived parts of Wales. Each has figured, or will continue to figure, in the Communities First programme. This is in addition to lesser but nonetheless serious levels of deprivation found in other coastal communities.
The decline of domestic seaside tourism is usually credited with being at the root of such towns’ malaise. But I can’t help feel that the market forces behind an unfettered and predatory property industry have helped push these communities closer to the precipice. That former proud Victorian hotels are now crumbling multiple occupancy bedsits housing concentrations of vulnerable people is no doubt one symptom of this but the hoovering up of (relatively) cheap properties to be used only occasionally throughout the year, so-called ‘holiday homes’, is also a key driver. It dilutes consumer demand in local supply chains, it fragments community spirit, reduces availability of social housing in the community (based on evidence from Scotland) and raises prices of other properties, the latter two effects conspiring to alter the demography in coastal communities. A fact that the graffiti artist(s) sardonically articulate(s) with Snoopy and friends packing their bags.
But the individual’s right to own property, and a particular commodified definition of it, is so culturally engrained and economically essential (consider for a moment what percentage of national GDP is comprised by landlord income from recycled housing benefit and rents from young people excluded from the property market) that intervention is often labelled as racist, insular and uneconomic. Is it a coincidence that none of the first schemes supported via the welcome Coastal Communities Fund in England and Wales appear to address structural property issues in coastal communities?
So as witty and cute as the graffiti is in the first picture when seen in its slightly wider context on the derelict shop, one of several in picturesque Appledore, it becomes more caustic and highlights a sad and resigned reality.
A footnote to this blog (originally published 15th November 2012) is the priority of coastal communities (as well as town centres and Communities First clusters) in Wales for regeneration investment. The accompanying framework, Vibrant and Viable Places, justifies this prioritisation on the grounds that (p.37):
Many have unique natural assets and maritime heritage which adds to their interest and distinctiveness. Although some are finding renewed success by using both historic roots and new investment, others are struggling to contribute as they once did to their local economies. As patterns of tourism have changed, for example, “seaside towns” – or traditional resorts – have lost footfall and lustre. Regeneration activity needs to recognise and maximise unique selling points without holding out false hope about recapturing the faded glories of the past. For example, coastal communities can all take advantage of the Wales Coast Path which connects them and celebrates their attractiveness as places to live and visit.
Seaside towns face similar challenges, but as they are a distinctive group of places, they also face unique challenges. Because of their history of tourism, and in most cases the continuing significance of this sector, they tend to share a number of features that distinguish them from other places along the coast or inland. This includes a specialist tourist infrastructure (promenades, piers, parks etc), holiday accommodation (hotels, B&B, caravan sites etc) and a distinctive resort character that is often reflected in the built environment. Moreover, while some resorts have fared better than others, they have all to a greater or lesser extent faced challenges arising from the changing structure of the UK holiday trade.
Furthermore, the Framework commits the Welsh Government to continuing participating in the (p.40):
UK-wide Coastal Communities Fund (£1.45 million in 2013/14) to enable us to use Crown Estate revenues to support tourism and other micro-business projects particularly those involving marine skills and maritime heritage.
Interestingly, I heard anecodatally from a senior local authority manager that housing is to be a focus for proposals for regeneration funding. Given my reservations about the lack of such a focus on the part of the Coastal Communities Fund, this is hugely welcome.