How South Shields is a leading light for the future of coastal communities - and why 2021 is a chance to turn the tide

South Tyneside is leading a fight for the future of the UK’s coastal areas – and 2021 could be the year the tides turn for towns and villages by the sea, say chiefs.

Monday, 8th March 2021, 1:48 pm
South Tyneside Council Cllr Ernest Gibson.

Seaside communities in the North East and around the UK are facing a number of ‘complex and challenging’ issues ranging from coastal erosion and climate change to the decline of traditional industries and domestic tourism leading to social and economic problems.

And while the pandemic has seen increased interest in staycations, chiefs say covid crisis has ‘highlighted and exacerbated the socio-economic problems that uniquely affect coastal communities’ and emphasised the need for ‘vital intervention to ensure they can be protected for the future’.

Councillor Ernest Gibson, South Tyneside Council’s Lead Member for Area Management and Community Safety, also chairs the Local Government Association’s Coastal Special Interest Group (SIG).

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Emily Cunningham, SIG’s Lead Officer, Marine and Coastal Specialist

“2021 brings an historic opportunity to turn the tide for our coastal communities and the LGA Coastal SIG is leading the way. The need for a united coastal voice is stronger than ever before. Without action, they stand to fall further behind,” said Councillor Gibson.

“Seaside towns are in a unique position. They face a particular set of challenges. The ongoing threat of climate change and coastal erosion continues to be a key priority, evidenced only recently by cliff collapses along the North East coastline.

“In South Tyneside, we continue to work hard to protect our communities. The Littlehaven Promenade and Seawall, built in recent years, not only provides an improved coastal defence, but a stunning visitor attraction as part of significant investment across the wider seafront area. We also have plans to realign our coastal route at Marsden.”

“We also have to consider other factors such as the decline in our once thriving shipbuilding industries and the need to promote, protect and capitalise on our unique coastal culture and heritage."

Cllr Gibson said the Coastal SIG brings together national experience and expertise to give communities such as South Tyneside a ‘collective voice’ in raising issues with Central Government and coming up with solutions to problems.

It recently wrote to the Prime Minister calling for a dedicated Minister for Coastal Communities and continually lobbies the Government for ring-fenced recovery funding for the coast.

“Being part of the Coastal SIG has really helped me to understand how widespread these issues are and how important is it to work together to address our shared concerns and safeguard our communities for the long term,” he said.

“This has never been more important than now, following the impact of Covid-19 on our coastal communities. Though the Coastal SIG we are driving forward change and are determined to kick start the recovery and revival of our coastal communities to help them emerge from the pandemic stronger and more resilient.”

The LGA Coastal SIG has a cross-party membership of 56 coastal local authorities from across England – representing almost 60% of the coastline.

Since 2019, when Cllr Gibson was appointed as Chair, the SIG has established several working groups focusing on its key policies, including finding practical solutions to widespread issues including beach and water safety, coastal erosion and flooding, coastal landfills and bathing water quality.

The LGA Coastal SIG has also recently been appointed as the co-Secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Coastal Communities. This cross-party group of coastal MPs from around the UK focuses on ensuring the Government’s levelling-up agenda is delivered at the coast and to help coastal areas such as South Tyneside build back better following Covid-19.

Chairman, Cllr Gibson is supported in his national role by the SIG’s Lead Officer, Marine and Coastal Specialist, Emily Cunningham.

Councillor Gibson added: “We are hugely privileged to have Emily supporting our coastal areas, not just here in South Tyneside, but across the UK.

“Emily is extremely passionate about her work, inspiring others and helping us through the complex challenges we face so that we can build a better future for our coastal communities. To be one of only 150 people from around the world to hold this prestigious award is phenomenal.”

Emily added: “Many people aren’t aware of the amazing wildlife we have off our coastline, nor the incredible amount of work that goes into managing and protecting it. I am proud to work for South Tyneside Council and support Councillor Gibson and the LGA Coastal SIG to build back better for the coast and communities we serve.”

Emily was named as one of the North American Association for Environmental Education’s (NAAEE) 30 Under 30 global environmental leaders of 2020. The award recognises Emily’s expertise and wealth of work in driving positive change, towards a thriving future for UK seas and the coastal communities that depend on them.

She is one of only 150 individuals from 34 countries to be recognised by the EE 30 Under 30 programme since 2016.

For further information about the work of the LGA’s Coastal Special Interest Group visit: www.lgacoastalsig.com

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